Courthouse plans proceed

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 21, 1999

A plan that could provide the county with a remodeled courthouse by June 1, 2001, was approved Thursday.

Saturday, August 21, 1999

A plan that could provide the county with a remodeled courthouse by June 1, 2001, was approved Thursday.

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Freeborn County commissioners authorized the next phase of a proposal calling for the demolition of part of the courthouse and rebuilding east of the existing structure.

While they still plan to take the proposal to public meetings, the commissioners approved preparations for those meetings Thursday.

With an $11,000 price tag, the commissioners requested architect Jack Boarman proceed with creating detailed designs and cost estimates, as well as preparing a model and newsletter for presentations.

Commissioner Dan Belshan said he was opposed to the $2,000 cost of a three-dimensional model of a plan not yet approved for construction.

But, other commissioners said they see the model as crucial to the upcoming public meetings on the issue.

&uot;To truly educate people and get a wise decision, I think we need to present it in the best light possible,&uot; said Commissioner Brian Jordahl. &uot;If (the public) rejects it, maybe we waste a couple thousand dollars.&uot;

He said it would be worth it to know the public was well informed when making a decision.

The plan currently being proposed has an estimated price of $8.1 million and calls for the north portion of the current courthouse to be demolished. A new structure would be built east of the existing courthouse.

The proposal was approved in a 3-2 vote earlier this year, but commissioners note it could change after public meetings are held.

While the split vote and other disagreements on proposed construction was seen as a division among commissioners, Boarman said Thursday that the commissioners don’t appear to be as split as first believed.

The architect interviewed each official separately and compared their comments to specific questions.

As a result, he said he found the commissioners agreed on many points, including the need for added security and safety in the courthouse, keeping as many offices as possible &uot;under one roof,&uot; and keeping the building efficient for both public and staff.

Areas in which the commissioners did not agree were the overall perception of project cost and the value of keeping or demolishing the two older sections of the courthouse, said Boarman.

In discussing the 1888 and 1954 buildings, the commissioners also said they are interested in making sure a long-range plan is in place for the future.

&uot;We don’t want the board 50 years from now asking the same questions we are now,&uot; said Jordahl.

Commissioner Dave Mullenbach agreed, &uot;I feel very strong about that long-range plan.&uot;

To help create a future vision, architects were asked about the possible future of the two older buildings.

Boarman said the 1888 building is in good shape and will easily stand the test of time.

&uot;That building could stay there for 100 years,&uot; he said.

While the exterior of the building is in excellent shape, he said the lasting power of the interior will depend on use.

&uot;If it stays used as it is now it will wear out sooner,&uot; he said.

But, he noted the current proposal calls for limited use of the original courthouse, meaning it will likely last.

As for the 1954 building, Boarman said the building is still a solid structure and could last. But, he said there are some problems with it.

&uot;It’s not flexible,&uot; he said.

While the architect said the county could save as much as $1.5 million by renovating the 1954 building instead of tearing it down, he also noted the space would be less efficient and more difficult to use. It would also likely add three to six months to the construction schedule.

Still, Belshan said he favors minimum new construction and remodeling, an option Boarman said would cost at least $5 million and leave the county without courthouse parking lot.

But, Belshan said his plan to move the courts from the 1954 building and into a new building would leave plenty of space inside the existing buildings.

&uot;There’d be a lot of empty space,&uot; he said.

In the end, commissioners opted to proceed with plans to promote the current proposal. Under a time line created by Boarman, public meetings could be held as soon as late October.