With architects on board, planning starts on $5.8 million justice center in Granite Falls

GRANITE FALLS --Yellow Medicine County is taking its first steps toward replacing its courthouse building, originally built in 1889 and expanded in the 1970s.

GRANITE FALLS -Yellow Medicine County is taking its first steps toward replacing its courthouse building, originally built in 1889 and expanded in the 1970s.
The County Board of Commissioners met Tuesday with the architects and construction manager for the project to begin planning a new structure. The commissioners recently selected Wold Architects of St. Paul as architects for the project, and previously contracted with Contegrity Group Inc. of Little Falls to serve as construction manager.
Wold Architects did the analysis that led to the decision to replace the courthouse.

The project is going forward with one stated priority: It must stay within a $5.8 million spending cap.
The commissioners would like to see a 20,000-square-foot structure, based on the identified needs for the offices it would hold.
The new building will hold offices for the district court and court administration services, county attorney, sheriff’s office, Granite Falls Police Department, probation and information technology.
The Sheriff’s Office and Police Department are currently located in a 2002 addition to the courthouse that includes the Family Service offices and a jail. The county’s veteran services, restorative justice, and public health offices would move to the space in the addition to be vacated by the law enforcement offices.
Architects Joel Dunning and John McNamara with Wold said they would arrange to lead the commissioners on a tour of justice centers built within the last 15 years in Carver, Scott and Blue Earth counties. They told the commissioners that touring the facilities could help identify both what is and is not wanted in a Yellow Medicine County facility.
In discussions with the architects, the commissioners said that improving security and safety for the court services is one of their primary goals. They also emphasized a desire to keep costs reasonable.
Commissioner Gary Johnson told the architects he is not looking for a Cadillac, but does not want a Volkswagen either. “Somewhere in between there,’’ he said.
The new building will be located on the existing courthouse grounds, with plans to raze the existingcourthouse building. The war memorial on site will be preserved. The architects will draft preliminary plans for either a one-story or two-story building, but suggested that a two-story building is the more likely given the space available.

Food shelf seeks new home

GRANITE FALLS - Plans to replace the Yellow Medicine County Courthouse with a justice center have the food shelf serving the eastern side of the county looking for a new home, and the financial support to remain viable.
Yellow Medicine County currently provides the food shelf space and the utilities it needs in the courthouse building free of charge. The food shelf is operated by the nonprofit charitable organization Neighbors United Yellow Medicine County and relies entirely on volunteer labor.
It will cost an estimated $12,000 to possibly $15,000 annually to lease space and provide utilities for the food shelf at a location in Granite Falls outside of the courthouse, Family Services Director RaeAnn Keeler-Aus told the Yellow Medicine County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday.
The county would like to see the food shelf moved out of the courthouse this winter. It is preparing for the construction of a justice center to replace the courthouse building.
The Board of Commissioners voted 4-1 at its meeting Tuesday to allocate up to $5,000 annually toward the costs of operating the food shelf, provided that Chippewa County and the city of Granite Falls each contribute equally.
The food shelf serves residents in communities including Granite Falls, Echo, Wood Lake and Maynard. In August, it served 423 different individuals, among them 176 children. The total of people served includes 205 individuals from the western side of Granite Falls, which is in Yellow Medicine County, and another 118 persons from the eastern side, which is in Chippewa County.
Keeler-Aus said the food shelf has seen steady growth in its usage since its start in the 1980s. It expends $3,000 a month for food. The funds are donated by individuals, businesses, churches and organizations such as the United Way. The food shelf leverages that money to purchase $9 worth of food for every $1 by purchasing through Second Harvest and other organizations.
The commissioners’ vote to support the food shelf came after some debate. Commissioner Gary Johnson initially authored a motion offering $5,000 to the food shelf and another $2,500 to a food shelf operated by churches in Clarkfield. He said the county should not support a food shelf in Granite Falls without supporting one in Clarkfield. Prairie Five Community Action Council supports the other food shelf in the county, which is located in Canby.
Johnson withdrew the motion after learning that the Clarkfield food shelf does not have the same tax-exempt status as Neighbors United Yellow Medicine County, and it would be problematic for the county to contribute funds to it. The Clarkfield food shelf serves about 10 to 15 county residents a month, according to County Administrator Peggy Heglund.
Johnson made the lone vote against the $5,000 annual contribution to the food shelf based in Granite Falls. He noted that he had just spoken to constituents upset with assessments for an improvement project on County Ditch Number 9; they urged him to hold the line on spending. He also pointed out that many food shelves in other counties operate without county support.
According to information provided the board, the food shelf in Granite Falls is serving primarily elderly persons and families with children that are dependent on minimum wage incomes or less.
The commissioners cited that need in voting to allocate funds for the food shelf, but also made it clear that the funds would only be available if the other partners are equal contributors. Administrator Heglund said Chippewa County and the city of Granite Falls have received requests to help fund the food shelf’s operations, but she has not heard whether either has acted.

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