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Hubbard County space plan gets a second look as offices overflow

Access to the courthouse, in the center of the photo, takes visitors through the first floor corridor of the courthouse and past many business offices. Another access point is near the security station. Courthouse employees say they have some concerns about their safety if an incident were to occur. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

Nearly two years ago Hubbard County invested in an architectural space needs plan that didn't seem to work for anyone.

But as those space needs get more immediate, board chair Greg Larson said a workable plan is imminent. The board met in a work session last Wednesday to discuss items it hasn't been able to get to during regular board meetings.

"Social Services, we have twice as many people there than we should," he said.

Several factors are edging the plan forward.

"We have need, space available and cost," Larson said. "We certainly have the need. We have an overstuffed courthouse, we have space available, I think it's 11,000 square feet unused above that jail, we've budgeted the money as far as financing it and I don't know what the board wants to do but we've got it in the bank.

"We've set aside building fund money, more than enough to cover the Social Services cost," Larson said.

He and commissioner Kathy Grell recently met with the architect, who gave them preliminary cost estimates.

"My recollection is moving the courts was $4.5 million; moving Social Service was under $1 million," Larson said. "The major difference being obvious. We don't have to raise the ceiling and add space" if Social Services moves to the Law Enforcement Center.

Social Services Director Daryl Bessler, who was unable to attend Wednesday's meeting, has questioned whether there is ample space above the jail for his staff, now scattered over two floors of the county office building.

Larson said hiring an architect to draw up a floor plan would answer that question.

But what works for one department is causing safety concerns for others.

Some of the main floor office personnel have expressed concerns about not having a buffer zone between their offices and the courts. Unlike the clerk of court, the auditor/treasurer, recorder and other offices do not have bullet-proof glass windows.

"It's a definite safety concern," said recorder Nicole Lueth.

She explained to the board that defendants are often facing "the worst day of their lives" going to court and the business staffs feel vulnerable because there is no secure access to the east end of the courthouse.

"We're not trained to handle court people," she said.

"I don't like segregating the court end of the courthouse," Larson said at the meeting. "It feels elitist."

Sheriff Cory Aukes has discussed many safety features, including a card key system to allow employees access to certain parts of the office building.

"I officed in the courthouse for 20 years," Larson said. " I never saw anything."

But commissioner Dick Devine has repeatedly stressed Hubbard County is "behind the ball" in security planning.

"We don't want to wait for it to happen," Larson acknowledged. "And if we can reasonably prevent it we should do that."

Larson said he spoke to the bailiffs before Wednesday's meeting about the main floor office concerns.

"The bailiff was quite adamant, as far as they're concerned, there's never been an issue and if there is they're there to take care of it," Larson said. "I've seen them escort people outside" of the courtrooms.

Bailiffs are stationed at the west end of the courthouse during court sessions, but they are not there all the time, Aukes said.

"I know of one instance of violence in a Minnesota courtroom since I've been practicing and that was a guy punching his lawyer," Larson said. "But that doesn't mean we shouldn't pursue it."

Sarah Smith

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

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