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Yellow Medicine County is continuing to debate options for courthouse

GRANITE FALLS — Members of the Yellow Medicine County Board of Commissioners want to take one more look at possibly remodeling the county’s aged courthouse before they make a decision on whether to replace it.

They are also interested in looking at two possible alternatives to an estimated $8.1 million proposal to replace the 1889 portion and 1970s addition to the courthouse with a new, brick and mortar structure.

Commissioner Greg Renneke proposed an option of building a separate structure at the site to house the district court and county attorney. He said it could be constructed so that it could be expanded in the future to hold the remaining offices in the 1889 and 1970s portion of the courthouse.

Commissioner Louis Sherlin proposed that they erect a Morton, pre-manufactured building on the campus to house the offices now in the courthouse, including the district court services.

He would also locate the county attorney’s office in it. He said a pre-manufactured structure could be erected for roughly $4.5 million.

These were among the points that emerged from a far-reaching discussion Tuesday afternoon among the commissioners. The county has been considering an estimated $8.1 million project to erect a brick-and-mortar structure on the courthouse site to replace the original, 1889 portion of the courthouse and a oft-remodeled 1970s addition to it.

Ground was broken in 2000 on the newest portion of the courthouse complex that houses the jail and social services, and that section would be attached to the new structure.

An earlier study by Wold Architects, of St. Peter, recommended that the county remove the aged structures and erect a 46,896-square-foot structure to replace the existing 29,872 square feet. The study by Wold also found that the county would need to invest $2.7 million to remodel and bring the 1889 and 1970s portion up to modern standards. The remodeling would do little toward meeting the space and other needs, according to the study.

The need to provide more space and better facilities for the court system now located on the third floor of the courthouse is driving the discussion. A lack of space and the aged infrastructure on the third floor have created concerns about security and the integrity of the court services. The existing courthouse also houses offices for community corrections, public health, IT services, veterans services and a food shelf. The county attorney is located in leased space in downtown Granite Falls. It has been the county’s intent to locate the offices in the same building as the court services.

In the discussions Tuesday, the commissioners said they would like a more thorough analysis of what it would take to remodel the existing structures. Architect John McNamara is hopeful of presenting an analysis to the board at its Jan. 28 meeting.

Renneke said the option of a phased expansion would allow the county to meet its most pressing need of addressing the district court’s concerns about its current facilities on the third floor of the courthouse. It would also provide the county with time to make decisions on whether to remodel and preserve the structure. He and others cited concerns about the ongoing maintenance costs for preserving the aged portion of the courthouse, and whether the building has historic significance to justify the expense. It has been greatly altered through the years, they noted.

The option of erecting a Morton building would meet the space needs identified by the Wold study, but at nearly one-half the cost of a new brick and mortar facility, according to Sherlin. He said that other governmental agencies — including Western Mental Health in Marshall — have erected pre-manufactured buildings. He said that Morton is the largest builder of churches in the U.S. “I would assume that being the largest church building in the United States that people have a lot of faith in them,” he said.

No consensus emerged on what direction to go and the commissioners agreed to keep the $8.1 million option of building new on the table.

They hope to make more headway when presented with the analysis by Wold Architects later this month.

They also discussed again the option of tapping more than $12 million in reserve funds to pay off the remaining $1.75 million principal on the bonds to finance the jail and social services addition to the courthouse, rather than refinance the 2005 bonds. The county would save more than $300,000 in interest costs by paying off the bonds outright, or possibly twice the savings projected by refinancing, according to information presented at this and previous meetings.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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