WILLMAR -- With an eye of caution to final cost figures, the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners agreed Tuesday to take another step to construct two new buildings -- one to house the county's rescue sq-uad and one to house abandoned animals.
In separate unanimous votes, the commissioners agreed to authorize TSP Inc. of Rochester to prepare bid documents for a new 12,600-square-foot emergency rescue squad building that would be located near the current building along Lakeland Drive.
The estimated cost is just shy of $1.5 million.
TSP, which was hired to draw up preliminary plans for the buildings, will also prepare bid documents for a 5,600-square-foot Humane Society building that would be built on a two-acre site in the new industrial park, near the Coca-Cola Bottling Company on U.S. Highway 12 West. The cost is estimated at $600,000.
Bids will be sought in January.
While saying the buildings are needed and expressing support for them, the commissioners said if the bids are higher than expected, they could be rejected and the projects redesigned and re-bid.
Randall Ayshford, from TSP, said the number of public construction projects in Minnesota has dropped dramatically, which could create a positive climate for getting good bids.
"This might be the best time to move forward," said County Administrator Larry Kleindl. "It won't get any cheaper."
Plans for both buildings have been discussed for many years.
Last year a task force made up of the county, city of Willmar, the rescue squad, Humane Society, ambulance, fire department and Rice Hospital began analyzing the needs of the two organizations and options for answering those needs, including remodeling existing commercial buildings in the community and putting both entities under one roof.
"Everybody put everything on the table," said Commissioner Harlan Madsen, who was a member of the task force. The focus of the "open, honest and effective discussions" was always on public safety and public service, he said.
The rescue squad building is in deplorable condition, with a leaky roof, mold, insulation falling from the ceiling and no facilities for volunteers to clean up after returning from accidents.
Commissioner Dean Shuck called the rescue squad building "an embarrassment."
The Humane Society of Kandiyohi County is located in a drafty county building that is expensive to heat and too small to handle the number of animals it takes in.
The task force conducted 23 meetings to hammer out a recommendation that was presented to the commissioners.
"We analyzed a lot of data," said Don Ericson, Kandiyohi County emergency management director.
One-third of the emergency calls happen in the city limits and two-thirds are elsewhere in the county, with many happening along the corridor of state Highway 23. A majority of the volunteer rescue squad members live in Willmar, Ericson said.
It was determined the facility needed to be located in Willmar in order to maintain a short response time.
In 2007 the local Humane Society chapter took in 1,154 animals, including 873 stray cats and dogs, said Dawn Olson, a member of the board of directors. The Humane Society also takes in dangerous dogs that law enforcement captures. Because of space limits many animals are turned away.
With a larger building, more animals can be accepted, sick animals can be isolated, more volunteers can be utilized and public education can be increased. "We want to become the community's shelter," Olson said.
Using money that has been set aside for the project, the county would foot the bill for the rescue squad building.
The county "astutely and prudently" set aside money for the projects, Madsen said, adding the construction jobs would help boost the local economy.
For the Humane Society building, the county would use $350,000 in reserve funds.
The city of Willmar has agreed to donate the land, pay for utility hook-ups (estimated at $10,000) and contribute $50,000 to the capital fund, said Willmar City Administrator Michael Schmit.
Linda Kacher, co-chair of the Humane Society, said the group is already halfway to raising the other half of the construction costs and will begin a capital campaign now to begin raising the rest.
Although he supports both projects, Commissioner Richard Falk said he does not like the idea of the county owning the Humane Society building because of potential operating expenses. He said the county should contribute to the capital campaign but the Humane Society should own the building.
"We're in changing times," said Falk, who questioned the county's 2007 budget of $36,000 for the Humane Society when it contributes $14,000 to the food shelf.
Kleindl said county ownership would help preserve taxpayers' investment in case the Humane Society was unable to keep the facility going in the future.
The commissioners agreed to form a subcommittee to draw up an agreement with the Humane Society to lay out who would be responsible for future operating costs of the building.