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Commissioners look at second opinion on YM Co. building plans

GRANITE FALLS — Yellow Medicine County will pursue a second opinion before making a decision on whether to raze its original courthouse and build a new facility on the site for court services and a number of county offices.

And no matter whether the county decides to build new or remodel, at least one county commissioner is insisting that a referendum be held before any money is spent.

The Yellow Medicine County Board of Commissioners met Tuesday with Josh Cowdery of CTS Group, a firm based in St. Louis, Mo., with an office in Bloomington, Minn. The commissioners were expecting Cowdery to present a report on the feasibility of renovating the original 1889 portion of the courthouse and a 1970s addition. Cowdery said the study is not yet ready and asked for more input from county officials.

An earlier space analysis completed by Wold Architects, of St. Paul, determined that it would cost $2.7 million to renovate the original courthouse building just to meet current standards. That investment would not achieve the additional goals of improving security and operations for the district court services, nor would it allow for the clustering of county offices. The Wold report recommended a number of options for the county. Building an estimated $8.1 million facility — and demolishing the original courthouse and the 1970s addition — was the option originally discussed.

More recently, the county has scaled back its plans for the offices to keep on the courthouse grounds in Granite Falls. A new proposal from Wold calls for razing the structure and building a smaller, 18,500-square-foot structure at an estimated overall project cost of $5.2 million. That option would require leasing space elsewhere in Granite Falls for at least one agency, and another office would relocate to the newest portion of the courthouse complex that currently houses the jail and social services offices.

The commissioners told Cowdery they do not feel they have the information they need to make a decision on whether to build, renovate, or do a hybrid project involving both renovation and building. “I’d like to have some more information,” said Commissioner John Berends. “I’m not at a point where I can make a decision.”

Cowdery said CRS Group would have its study ready soon, and could give the county information to help it determine whether it was worthwhile to renovate or not. He noted at the start of discussions that the original courthouse and its infrastructure were “outdated,” but said that did not mean it could not be renovated to meet the county’s objectives.

The commissioners said they are moving cautiously due to their recent experience with remodeling a former bank building for use as county offices. The original cost estimate for the project was for $200,000 to $350,000 maximum if an elevator were added. “We just cut a check for over $700,000,” said Commissioner Gary Johnson.

He also made it known that he would not support any action on a building project without voter approval. “I’ve told my constituents. I’m not doing anything without a referendum, period,” said Johnson.

Tom Cherveny

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

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