Options down to seven

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 2, 1999

In a meeting aimed at narrowing choices for courthouse renovation, Freeborn County commissioners added new options, but still achieved their goal.

Friday, April 2, 1999

In a meeting aimed at narrowing choices for courthouse renovation, Freeborn County commissioners added new options, but still achieved their goal.

Email newsletter signup

The five commissioners limited their discussion primarily to seven plans, four of which were different from those presented by the county’s architect.

Before the meeting, commissioners ranked their favorite choices among 14 plans and each plan was scored. While they started with 14 options, commissioners Brian Jordahl, Dave Mullenbach and Dan Belshan each proposed new choices.

Jordahl’s top choice was a proposal submitted by Austin’s Joseph Company during a meeting with the design and building company. The plan would add a new structure behind the existing courthouse, but keep it closer to the 1888 building than other plans.

&uot;For the same amount of money, they gave us more square footage,&uot; he said comparing it to other plans.

Mullenbach made two new proposals, both involving construction of a joint city-county public safety building with Albert Lea.

Mullenbach suggested the county inquire whether the city plans to build a separate building to house the Albert Lea Fire Department and police department. If so, he noted there would be space available in the current law enforcement center – an entire floor if the sheriff’s office relocated with the police department.

&uot;We could free up the law enforcement out of that building,&uot; he said, suggesting the two lower levels of the building could be used for court space.

Still, he noted that there are no current plans for a public safety building.

&uot;I don’t know if it’s possible that we can build a public safety building together or not,&uot; he said.

Both plans submitted by Mullenbach originally called for a fourth floor to be added to the law enforcement center to house courtrooms. He changed that proposal after discovering the county’s architect said adding the floor would be &uot;a very expensive process and very disruptive to any current occupants in the building.&uot;

Still, he said he’d like to inquire about a possible public safety building. In his plans, the building could either be located south of the current courthouse, across Pearl Street, or on current courthouse land if the 1888 and 1954 buildings are torn down.

If the current buildings are demolished, he suggested finding room for some county offices in another location. Law enforcement and court offices would remain near the jail.

When Commissioner Bob Berthelsen said he was opposed to putting offices in another site, Mullenbach agreed and said it’s not his favorite choice.

Belshan proposed building only to accommodate the needs of county courts and meet accessibility needs.

&uot;As far as this courthouse, I think there is a lot of life left in it,&uot; he said.

He recommended buying land on the south side of Pearl Street and constructing a new court building. The building would connect to the current jail in some way.

As for the current courthouse space, Belshan said he expects moving the courtrooms and related offices would leave plenty of room for other offices.

&uot;I see bringing this up to code and accessibility,&uot; he said of the 1888 and 1954 buildings. He said he doesn’t want to spend a lot on major remodeling.

&uot;I don’t think our taxpayers want to spend that kind of money if we can do it for less and solve a lot of problems,&uot; he said of plans with estimated costs up to $8.5 million.

Using existing estimates, Belshan and County Administrator Gene Smith predicted his plan would cost $4.2 million.

But, some commissioners noted Belshan’s plan doesn’t address all the county’s needs.

&uot;If you do that, you won’t address security and safety,&uot; Mullenbach said.

Additionally, Berthelsen and Mullenbach said the plan would probably cost more than the estimated $600,000 for accessibility needs because other changes would need to be made along the way.

Belshan said that’s a reason for more study.

&uot;You have to do a study on this,&uot; he said. &uot;You don’t just assume.&uot;

While other commissioners were choosing new alternatives, Berthelsen stayed with existing designs. His top choice would construct an addition behind the law enforcement center and cost $5.8 million.

His second choice was to construct an addition on the parking lot behind the courthouse. Parking would be underneath. The plan would cost $7.9 million.

Berthelsen’s third choice actually recieved the most points when all the commissioners’ choices were compared. It’s the same plan picked by the courthouse facilities committee after months of discussion. That plan carries an $8.5 million price tag and takes away the 1954 building and adds an addition where the courthouse parking lot now stands.

Commissioner Keith Porter didn’t choose a specific design, but noted he wants to make sure the county maintains a long-range plan for the courthouse.

With the top seven choices identified, Jordahl said he’d like to see the number limited more.

&uot;It would be nice to narrow it down to two or three,&uot; he said. &uot;That would be a productive way to end this meeting.&uot;

Instead, commissioners decided to seek more information. Mullenbach requested Albert Lea city officials be contacted about the possibility of a public safety building.

If such a building isn’t in the works, he said he’d withdraw his two proposals.

Belshan asked Smith to look into the expense of purchasing land south of Pearl Street. That land would be needed for his proposed court building.

Commissioners decided to continue the discussion on April 13 at 8:30 a.m.