County to subtract addition

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 24, 2002

After months of deliberation, the county board voted to tear down the 1954 courthouse addition Tuesday, concluding the debate that divided the community.

The resolution was carried by the support of commissioners Dave Mullenbach, Mark Behrends and Dan Springborg. Dan Belshan and Glen Mathiason voted negative.

The board also decided to contract with Adolfson and Peterson Construction to administrate the county’s courthouse project, and to authorize the BKV Group, an architectural firm, to make the final design of the new judicial center including the old courthouse renovation.

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The ’54 building site will be an open space and the county will relocate the statue in front of the old courthouse to the northwest corner of the block, where it originally stood.

The decisions mean the new judicial center building plan, which the county has been crafting for months, now includes county offices on its first floor and the new building will become an integrated courthouse complex.

According to the plan, the recorder, auditor/treasurer and assessor’s offices will occupy the first floor of the new building facing the main entrance on Broadway Avenue, while the Sheriff’s office and the Albert Lea city police will reside in the rest of the same floor. The original plan for the judicial center will now include an extra 12,000 square-foot addition to make room for the offices from the ’54 building. Another 2,500 square-foot space will be added to the second floor of the building on which the district court and county attorney’s offices will be placed. The lower level will be the new jail, as originally proposed.

The cost for removing the ’54 building, adding the new spaces to the justice center, and remodeling the old courthouse is about $3 million. The other two options that would have kept the ’54 building were estimated to cost $3.2 million and $2.8 million, depending on the extent of remodeling.

For proponents, eliminating the ’54 building and incorporating the old courthouse into the downtown landscape is crucial for downtown redevelopment. Opponents think the building is still viable and demolishing it is nothing but a waste.

One of the vocal opponent. Truman Thrond, who represents the Save the ’54 Building Committee and is running for county commissioner against Mullenbach, objected to the architects’ proposal, insisting that an option with minimum remodeling was purposefully omitted.

But, Mark Liska of Adolfson and Peterson pointed out that to instal a sprinkler system in the ’54 building, which is considered necessary, crews must remove the entire ceiling. Jack Boarman of BKV added that removing asbestos and installing space for electric wiring cannot be done with minor remodeling.

Without a clear consensus among residents, the board had delayed the decision by tabling motions to remove the 54 building, which Behrends had entered twice. Instead, it authorized the A&P and BKV Group architects to conduct a comprehensive space utilization and cost studies.

&uot;I believe we need a new courts building. In my opinion, tearing down functional buildings doesn’t accomplish that goal,&uot; said Belshan, who has been present at the opponents’ meetings,.

&uot;After hearing all the issues with cost, space, maintenance, aesthetics, and also the recommendation of the 25-member citizens committee, I feel confident that the long-term solution is to tear down the ’54 building,&uot; said Behrends. &uot;We will have a courthouse that is functional and also one that we can all be proud of.&uot;

The citizens committee, convened several years ago, had recommended removing the ’54 building.