Defenders of ’54 building speak out

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 13, 2002

Around 110 people opposing the demolition of the Freeborn County Courthouse’s 1954 administrative annex attended a meeting to discuss the courthouse issue Wednesday. The group reconfirmed that it would reject a tax increase as a result of the demolition, and decided to ask county commissioners to table the decision for one month.

The meeting was organized by &uot;Fighting for ’54 Courthouse Building Committee,&uot; which was established last Thursday.

&uot;It’s a very functional building,&uot; said Committee Secretary Truman Thrond. &uot;It is a good, sound structure. And a remodel can be done at a reasonable cost by shifting one office to the other.&uot;

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Thrond, former county administrator, emphasized that renovations such as a new roof, energy efficient windows and air conditioning system have been added since the 1980s.

Roy Battleson, who constructed the building as a contractor, said the building is sound. &uot;The building, as I see it, is in excellent condition. I think it’s just a shame to tear down the building.&uot;

The county is considering tearing down the building as part of its courthouse project, which involves adding new court facilities and a new jail on the south end of the courthouse complex and renovating the ’54 building on the opposite end to make way for new offices that would move there. However, some citizens have pressed the county to tear down the ’54 building, which they say is unattractive and cumbersome. So, the county is now considering demolishing it and replacing it by adding more space in the new portion of the courthouse.

The concern of the crowd centered the possible higher cost of tearing down the building. Rose Christiansen pointed out a stagnated economic climate after Sept. 11 and questioned, &uot;Is this a time to incur more debt for the taxpayers?&uot;

Thrond suggested that building other social infrastructure would have a bigger economic impact than removing the ’54 building.

However, whether keeping the ’54 building would end up saving tax dollars is unproven.

An estimate submitted by BKV Group, the architect for the courthouse project, shows that the remodeling cost would be $1.4 million while adding a new structure to the judicial center would cost around $1.2 million.

The addition would be 12,000 square-foot. Detractors of the demolition insist that cannot make up for the loss of the ’54 building, which has 25,000 square feet. They also point out the demolition cost would push up the final bill.

BKV has suggested that the state driver’s license bureau, now in the ’54 building, would not fit into the new addition and it would have to move off the premises if the county tears down the 48-year-old structure.

The proponents believe a new building would help reduce maintenance and utility costs. The architect also indicated that the removal option would shorten the overall construction period of the judicial center, and the total price of the project would be cheaper.

&uot;It’s not designed to be an efficient office building,&uot; said activist Don Sorenson, who has advocated tearing down the building. &uot;Remodeling would never be cheap.&uot;

Sorenson thinks the enhanced efficiency of the new space will pay off any extra cost, even if the demolition option does require more dollars than the remodeling.

The county hired Minneapolis-based construction management firm Adolfson & Peterson Construction to oversee the new judicial center project, and asked the firm to examine the cost estimate for each option. The board will have a workshop at 9:15 a.m. Monday to review the report by A&P, and then may vote to decide which option the county would pursue in a meeting Tuesday.