WILLMAR - It took just a couple days for county staff and a sentence-to-service crew to rip out ceiling tiles and doors and gut a section of Kandiyohi County's office building in downtown Willmar.
The process to put the space back together is expected to begin later this month and could be completed by August.
When it's complete, the local license bureau operated by Minnesota Driver and Vehicle Services will move from one side of the building to the newly renovated part of the building.
The building is undergoing a slow, multi-phase remodeling project that will accommodate the county's efforts to break down internal "silos" to increase cooperation across departments, restructuring how they operate and how services are delivered.
The purpose is to make services more readily available to the public. "We just want to continue to be better," said County Administrator Larry Kleindl.
The physical changes to the interior of the building are also expected to improve the "convenience and openness for citizens," he said.
The county purchased the former bank building in 1998 and has not made any improvements since "the bank walked away and the county walked in," said Kleindl.
The renovation plan, which has been discussed by members of the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners for the last year, was part of a restructuring study the county conducted that included input from and interviews with staff.
The first phase of the project, which includes moving the license bureau, building new public restrooms, staining the wooden ceiling by the skylight and upgrading the building's heating and air-handling system and information technology system, will cost about $140,000.
Carlson Construction of Willmar is the general contractor, with local subcontractors hired for the project. Whenever possible, county staff will be utilized for projects. and existing materials, like doors and trim, will be reused.
The building will remain open and services will continue to be provided during the renovation, Kleindl said.
Additional reconstruction phases include replacing the carpeting and replacing the old furniture - which was not designed for computers - with ergonomically designed desks.
Eventually the auditor/treasurer's department will be nudged to the other end of the building and the recorder's office and environmental services department will be moved from the basement of the building to the main floor, alongside the assessor and auditor/treasurer.
The goal is to merge the county's financial services, which will also be housed in the building.
Implementation of all these steps will take a couple years, which will allow time for the departments to make the necessary adjustments and to make it easy for the county to budget.
Kleindl said that when all the work is done the total cost will be about $250,000.
The renovation plan will also allow Minnesota Driver and Vehicle Services to offer weekend or after-hour services, while keeping the rest of the building secure.
The old license bureau space could eventually be used for early-voting opportunities if the Legislature takes action to approve it.
Because so little upkeep has been done on the building for the last 15 years, Kleindl said some of the improvements would have been completed whether or not the restructuring of departments was happening.