Editorial: Subtracting ’54 is an addition to courthouse

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 15, 2002

There is no question that removing the 1954 addition to the Freeborn County Courthouse would make the courthouse look better, and by extension, make Albert Lea’s downtown a more attractive place.

And although the building itself may be sturdy and functional, there is also no question that it’s flawed. Members of the committee that rolled out courthouse recommendations a few years ago recognized right away that the building is outdated and cumbersome, and they recommended demolishing it for that reason.

Both arguments for tearing down the building are compelling. But most of all, it makes sense that if the county is going to finally solve its court and jail problems, now is the time to address the ’54 building. Replacing the building now, as part of a larger project, makes infinitely more sense than doing so at any other time. It saves money and it ensures architectural coherence.

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And speaking of money, architects have estimated that tearing down the ’54 building and adding more space onto the new judicial center could actually be cheaper than renovating the old building for other offices to replace the ones moving into the new judicial center.

There is no good reason for Freeborn County turn down an offer like this one: We get rid of a building that has its share of problems, we beautify the courthouse, and we do it all without adding much expense, if any at all, to the overall courthouse project.

Those who are against the idea say they balk at any extra cost. They say the cost of demolishing the ’54 building could go up, adding more onto the project’s price tag. While that is always possible, a few thousand dollars tacked onto a $20 million courthouse project is a small price to pay to do the job right.

There is a mathematical discrepancy, however, which opponents point out: The ’54 building is much larger than the space that would be added to the new structure to replace it. The county’s architect suggested that the license bureau would need to move out of the courthouse if everything is going to fit into the new area. This is a drawback; having that service in the courthouse is convenient, and not including it in the new plans means the county will lose the rent the department now pays.

However, the modified judicial center, which would do away with the 1954 building, has enough positive impact to more than make up for the negatives.

The county commissioners will be showing foresight and common sense if they vote accordingly.