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Project on county building in downtown Willmar, Minn., to begin soon

WILLMAR — The Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners gave the go-ahead Tuesday for a remodeling project to begin in the county’s downtown Willmar office building.

The work is included in “Phase 1” of the county’s two-pronged effort to improve efficiency of operations and increase customer service by realigning departments and personnel outside of the traditional department boxes. “Phase 2” involves departments located in the county’s Health and Human Services building.

Part of the Phase 1 process for the departments in the county office building is reconfiguring the layout of the downtown building.

The commissioners took action last year on the overall plan and gave County Administrator Larry Kleindl the verbal OK Tuesday to move the project into the demolition and construction stage at the county office building.

Work could begin yet this month or early in May.

Kleindl presented the sketches for the initial projects, which include moving the license bureau into the space previously occupied by the University of Minnesota Extension Service and constructing new public bathrooms near the entrance of the building.

The Extension office is now located in the county’s Health and Human Services building.

The two projects will take place at the same time but will be kept separate in terms of construction contracts and payments.

By dividing the construction project into segments, the county is able to keep the individual project costs below $100,000. That allows the county to avoid the sealed bid process and instead seek quotes.

The county must have two quotes if each project is over $25,000, said Kleindl.

Breaking the project into groups allows the county to “control the costs” and proceed to the next step when there is money to do so, he said.

County staff and individuals in the sentence-to-serve program will do most of the demolition. The building is not expected to be closed during the projects.

“We want to make sure we can continue operations,” said Kleindl.

The county purchased the 30-year-old building, which was initially used as a bank, in 1998. Very little has been done to the building during that time, said Kleindl.

After the former Extension Service space is gutted and the glass wall removed, it will be designed to accommodate the license bureau staff and customers.

By moving the department to that side of the building, the county will have the option to provide after-hours motor vehicle licensing services. A roll-down, chain wall will be installed so the area can be shut off from the rest of the building.

“This will give us flexibility for weekend hours,” said Kleindl.

If Minnesota provides early voting options in the future, Kleindl said the current licensing area will be used for voters.

Future plans include moving the recorder’s office from the basement to the upper level.

It’s hoped that the redesign will once again allow the county to provide passport services.

Because of Homeland Security restrictions, employees who process passport applications cannot be the same employees who process birth certificates or driver’s licenses. Those limitations made it financially impossible for the county to continue the passport service.

The only places to in Kandiyohi County apply for passports are the Atwater and Pennock post offices. With cuts to the Postal Service expected, passport services could become even more limited here, said Kleindl.

Board Chairman Harlan Madsen said a county this size should be able to provide passport services.

“We should be doing it. Other counties have figured out ways to do it,” said Madsen. “I see no reason why we shouldn’t be able to achieve those positive results.”

In other action Tuesday:

- The commissioners approved a contract with Lutheran Social Service to provide youth services, including programs for youth who are homeless, teen parents or are in need of independent living skills.

- The public health 2012 annual report was presented, including information about preventative programs, parenting education, immunization clinics and care provided to prisoners in the county jail and youth detention center.

- The commissioners approved the design of signs that will be erected at the county park on Saulsbury Beach in Spicer noting that the Spicer Commercial Club purchased and donated two new swimming rafts that will be installed this summer on Green Lake.

- The commissioners approved a special turkey hunt to be held April 17-21 and April 27-May 1 at the Prairie Woods Environmental Learning Center in rural Spicer. The event will be restricted to two to four hunters with special needs. The hunt will not interfere with Earth Day activities, according to the commissioners.

- Bids were approved for summer road striping and chloride road treatments; the final payment on the Diamond Lake sanitary sewer project was approved; and liquor licenses were approved for the Spicer Castle, Atwater golf course and the Little Crow Country Club in New London.

Carolyn Lange

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

(320) 894-9750