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Hubbard County Board takes step toward next phase of courthouse renovations

This is an architect's rendering of how the courthouse renovation would look, moving the entrance south. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

Hubbard County commissioner Kathy Grell gave the first nudge to the second phase of a courthouse renovation.

The multi-million dollar project is within the county's financial reach, said financial consultant Myron Knutson.

The county had asked him to crunch some numbers to see what an annual bond payment would be if the county embarks on a plan that would gut the county office building and revamp it.

Last month architects involved in the first phase, moving the county Social Services Department above the jail, presented plans for Phase 2 that range from $3.692 million to $4.795 million.

Knutson, of Public Financial Management, Inc., presented some payment schedules based on bonding $4.5 million. It may not be that much because Grell said the $2 million in the county's building fund could go toward the project.

Knutson said with the county's credit rating, savings and low debt service, it could realistically borrow up to $3 million a year. As interest rates remain at rock bottom lows and contractors are lowering costs to compete for work, Grell believes the county has a "perfect storm" of factors why the second phase should be completed.

But the county also has some large projects on the wish list. Heritage Living Center needs a multi-million-dollar overhaul, the county's transfer station needs some pricey upgrades and other projects keep popping up.

"It took Dick and I 25 years to build up this money so we should spend it as fast as we can," outgoing commissioner Lyle Robinson said, only partly in jest.

He suggested she was "going full speed ahead, damn the torpedoes."

As he questioned Grell about the decision to move forward, he cautioned her that it's the people's courthouse. "Doing it quickly is not as important as doing it right."

He said taxpayers should have full input into the project, including putting the brakes on it, he suggested.

Because the courthouse is a security nightmare, the infrastructure of the 38-year-old building is crumbling and costly, the board has been in general agreement that it simply can't withstand a Band-aid fix. That could conceivably cost $1 million.

But there are steps to be followed in pursuing bonding.

The board, on Grell's motion, authorized Knutson to prepare a 5-year capital improvement plan by early January.

That is required before the county can tap General Obligation bonding.

If approved by the county, the CIP would go to the public for a hearing.

"I wanted to have the old board approve the CIP," Grell explained, since board members were instrumental in formulating it.

Robinson and board chair Dick Devine are both leaving office at the end of the year.

With publication timelines and a 30-day protest period, the county at best wouldn't pursue bonding until spring, Knutson suggested.

Architect Steve Johnson, whose firm VJA of Minneapolis, said he would start by offering the county a new contract for his services. The old one is expiring.

"These are only preliminary designs," he said of the presentation his staff gave to the board last month. "It's only a fraction of the schematics we need."

He suggested before embarking on Phase 2, the board should revisit all department heads to see if their needs had changed.

The county envisions a new "land records department" on the second floor that would include auditor-treasurer, assessor, recorder and license bureau. Initially the Environmental Services Office was planned to be a part of this amalgamation.

But there may not be enough room to accommodate all of those functions on one floor, so the new plan has ESO and the County Attorney's office moving to the main floor in a consolidation with the courts.

Johnson also suggested the project would need a structural engineer, soil borings and a relocation plan as to which offices should be moved first.

Phase 1 has gone smoothly and is $70,000 under budget, which reinforced the county's decision to being VJA and a construction manager aboard. That company is Contegrity Group, Inc., of Little Falls.

The move will take place next weekend.

Knutson projected if the county bonded $4.5 million over 10 years, the annual payments would be around $500,000 at a bond rate of 1.9 percent; if the bonds ran 15 years the annual payment would be $361,000 at 2.338 percent and if a 20-year payment were pursued the annual payment would be around $295,000 at 2.65 percent interest rate.

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

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