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Proposals discussed to improve customer service by redesigning Kandiyohi County, Minn., Office Building

The County Board of Commissioners and departments heads conducted a work session Wednesday to discuss sweeping changes to the layout of the Kandiyohi County Office Building located at 400 Benson Ave. S.W. in downtown Willmar. The county is looking at its current structure to determine how to be more efficient and provide better service to the public.Willmar Tribune illustration

WILLMAR -- Kandiyohi County's efforts to become more efficient and provide better service to the public could result in a new way of doing business and a new look at the county office building in downtown Willmar.

During a three-hour work session Wednesday afternoon, the County Board of Commissioners and departments heads from that building met with architects and a consultant to examine ways of redesigning the interior layout of the building that would break down the walls between the different departments -- both literally and figuratively.

The concept involves "one office, merged culture and exemplary service," said Barbara Marks, from Engan Associates of Willmar.

The idea involves employees working together as a team to serve the public and creating an environment that makes it easier for customers to get that service.

County Administrator Larry Kleindl said the goal is to develop a "county service system" that uses technology, employees and facilities to deliver services in the best way.

David Unmacht, a consultant with Springsted, said the county has an opportunity to "step up to the plate" to make significant organizational changes that could be a "grand slam home run" by incorporating a "full-service business concept" that private industry has used for years.

But he warned the process of change will not be easy.

"It's a tough journey," he said, encouraging the department heads to stay positive and have good communication with their employees about the potential changes. He said all employees should have input into the plan so that there is "ownership" in the process and the end result.

Having worked through similar processes with other counties, Unmacht said the fear of change will eventually evolve into pride in how the new system works.

Marks presented several plans for how the end result could look.

Those plans will continue to be tweaked as input from staff is incorporated, but a common theme is to move all the departments to the first floor of the building.

All six departments would share some common spaces and some staff would be cross-trained to work across department lines.

The public doesn't care which department a person works for and doesn't care what their title is, said Unmacht. They just want the service they need, whether it's to pay taxes, get a death certificate or view land maps.

An information desk may be incorporated to field calls and direct the public to the correct area, while at the same time doing other work.

Marks said currently each department has its own front counter space and its own work rooms with their own copiers. There are rows of empty file cabinets and each department even has its own typewriter that may be used only once a month. She said some employees walk 30 feet from their desk to reach the counter to help a customer.

Making changes in how the space in the building is used, and changing the work flow of employees, has the potential for increasing efficiencies and giving the public better service, Unmacht said.

Under the different proposals, the Department of Motor Vehicle services, where people get their driver's license, could be relocated closer to the main door, where the University of Minnesota Extension Service had been located. Currently most people walk across the entire length of the building to get to the DMV. Having it near the doors could make it possible for that department to be open on Saturdays while keeping the rest of the building secure.

Department heads had questions about privacy, especially with confidential information, and if having all the departments on one floor would be too noisy.

Marks said overhearing conversations is actually more of a problem in a quiet building than a noisy one. She said they would work with the state to make sure the design meets new security regulations for the records and vital statistics department.

To make sure all the employees in the building have the same information and opportunities for providing input, Marks will meet with the staff to present the current proposals and hear their concerns and questions.

Richard Engan said the ballpark price for redesigning the building and equipping it with new furniture could be about $700,000.

Depending on how fast decisions are made, Engan said it could take 12 to 18 months for the project to be completed. Finishing a public project like this in one year could be done, but he said the project would have to be put on the fast track to be done by the end of 2013.

County Board Chairman Richard Larson directed the department heads and engineers to present a plan to the County Board by Dec. 11.


Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

(320) 894-9750