WILLMAR - Despite some uncertainty about how long the county's aging courthouse will remain in operation, the Kandiyohi County Board decided Tuesday to invest in an upgrade of the building's air handling system.

Whether the county sticks with the current courthouse for another two years or another 10 years, the project needs to take place, said Larry Kleindl, county administrator.

"We've got to do something," he said.

The County Commissioners voted to authorize an engineering study by Hallberg Engineering of White Bear Lake for $16,000. Construction will cost an additional $170,000 to $175,000, said Andy Thorson, facilities manager for Kandiyohi County.

Hallberg submitted the lower of two quotes in response to a request for proposals.

The current ventilation system for heating and cooling the building has been in the courthouse since it opened and is reaching the end of its life expectancy, Thorson said. "It's going on 55 years old."

A new system will be more efficient and will allow the building to be heated and cooled in zones, resulting in energy savings for the county and increased comfort for those who work at or visit the courthouse, Thorson said.

The former safety building adjoining the courthouse isn't included in the project, as it underwent an air handling upgrade about five years ago.

It will likely be some months before actual work begins. It will take time for the engineers to complete their study and for all the mechanical components to be ordered and shipped, Thorson said. "It's usually about 16 weeks out just to get the equipment."

The work also must be carefully timed to be carried out between the heating and cooling seasons, he said.

County officials and the County Board have had discussion on and off for the past few years about the future of the courthouse and whether the 1960s-era granite building, which occupies half a block in downtown Willmar, should stay where it is or be replaced. The question remains up in the air, but in the meantime the county is facing decisions about ongoing maintenance to keep the building functional.

A decision about replacing the windows will likely come before the County Board in the next year or two.

The County Commissioners said Tuesday that they supported taking measures to continue to maintain the building's air handling system.

"I know we all want to make sure it's fixed and it's fixed right," said Commissioner Harlan Madsen.