Realtor says he has buyer for ’54 courthouse annex

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 26, 2002

A courthouse project groundbreaking clock was set this week when the county posted a public bidding notice for the foundation work for the criminal justice center portion due on Oct. 16. Meanwhile, an opponent has come up with a proposal to purchase the 1954 building, a plan whose feasibility was questioned by county officials.

The project will start with the construction of a new structure for the criminal justice center on the site where the Western Grocer Building used to stand and on a closed portion of Pearl Street. This particular bidding is for the footings, foundation, utilities, precast and the site demolition, including removing the pavement of Pearl Street and part of a wall on the existing law-enforcement center building, according to the county.

The bids will be opened on Oct. 16 at the board meeting room in the courthouse. And then, a week later, the board will award the contract. County Administrator Ron Gabrielsen expects the project to start shortly after a contract is reached, so as not to hit winter weather.

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Prospective contractors can examine the bidding documents that explain the detail of project, which are available at Albert Lea Builders Exchange at 143 W. Clark St., Albert Lea, and the other nine exchanges in the state including Austin, Mankato, Rochester, St. Cloud and the Twin Cities.

Prior to the bidding date, the county plans to organize a tour for the bidders to inform the existing condition of the project site.

In the meantime, retired local Realtor Howard Jensen brought a proposal to purchase the ’54 building, which the county board voted to demolish, alleging that a buyer he found is offering $150,000. He would not reveal the buyer’s identity, but Jensen says he guarantees their credibility.

Jensen is affiliated with the Committee for Fairness, a group that has been vocally opposed to the courthouse project. &uot;I work with (the committee), but I am doing this my own,&uot; he said.

The cost estimates for the demolition are $120,000 plus $75,000 for asbestos removal, $100,000 for restoration of the facade of the adjacent old courthouse building, and $20,000 for landscaping.

Jensen calculates that the county can save those costs, plus gain the $150,000 sale price and put the property on the tax rolls.

County Attorney Craig Nelson is researching the legal aspect of the proposal. Records shows that the whole block of the courthouse complex is platted as the courthouse. &uot;The fundamental question is if the property can be sold or used for something other than the county government function,&uot; Nelson said.

&uot;I am glad that Mr. Jensen is involved in the county,&uot; Gabrielsen said. He will place the proposal on the agenda for the next board meeting.

Gabrielsen also pointed out that the offered price does not include the costs for separating the building from the county facility, which he thinks is necessary for security. He also mentioned that the buyer would have to deal with a number of problems such as the asbestos and parking space, which would conflict with the county government’s operation.