Opposition despite progress

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 24, 2002

While the county commissioners made some progress toward the construction of a new judicial center project Tuesday, they disagreed with each other in regard to how fast the they should proceed with the biggest project the county has ever undertaken.

The board decided to hire a construction management firm to administer the project. Also, it authorized the county administrator to study whether the county should comply with a request by the Minnesota Department of Corrections (DOC) to lease space in the new facility.

Over the past several weeks, the board has discussed pros and cons for having a construction management service instead of entering a general contract with a construction company.

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County Facilities Manager Randy Jensen recommended a construction manager to reduce the administrative burden, saying it would add to tje cost for the county to channel construction companies and the architect.

The DOC asked the county to provide space for its local office in the new judicial center.

Currently, the DOC rents a 1,300 square-foot office space at 142 West Main St. for its sentencing investigations and other business. But, the agency wants to move into the new facility for the sake of efficiency and convenience.

County Administrator Ron Gabrielsen showed his concern, pointing out the relocation would result in taking a real-estate business opportunity away from the private sector. Commissioners agreed to survey how other counties have dealt with similar requests.

In addition, the board authorized the county to continue a dialogue with the City of Albert Lea to address possible cooperation in solving parking problems and other issues. Gabrielsen said he would write a letter in an attempt to figure out what the city can offer.

The board members’ opinions diverged when Commissioner Glen Mathiason asked whether the county needs to approve the project in a hurry.

“We have to be sure that we are right,” said Mathiason. “I think we should step back and move with more caution.”

Commissioner Dan Belshan, who had proposed a smaller scale work-release area in the jail made possible by utilizing more electronic home monitoring, agreed with Mathiason, saying, “There is no question that we need a new facility, but we also need diligence.”

Belshan believes the jail population in the county has not reached a threshold point. And he proposed the county should review the jail need in accordance with the National Institute of Corrections guideline as well as by listening to officials in other counties that have been discussing a new jail.

Commissioner Chair Dave Mullenbach emphasized that the board had discussed several options including different jail population projections. He said the proposed 117-bed plan is not a high-end option in terms of the size and cost among the options.