Wright County Board selects firm to conduct post-courts space study

By John Holler

For decades, Wright County has struggled to deal with the growth of the county, the increase need for services and the small footprint of the current courthouse.

Space studies have done several times over the last two decades, departments have moved into different buildings (Human Services and the sheriff’s department/jail facility) and space has been revamped with the moving of different departments from one location to another.

With the courts moving out of the courthouse when its new building is completed adjacent to the Law Enforcement Center on the outskirts of Buffalo, a plan needs to be in place how to best optimize the space that is going to open up.

At the May 3 meeting of the Wright County Board of Commissioners, the first step in that process began.

The board awarded the contract to conduct a comprehensive master space study to BKV Group.

Two bids were received, one from BKV for $19,000 and the other from Wold Architects and Engineers for $46,000.

The board was surprised at the disparity of the bids, since they were described by Wright County Facilities Director Alan Wilczek as being similar “apples-to-apples” proposals.
Bruce Schwartzman of BKV addressed the board laying out the scope of the study they will perform on behalf of the county.

“I think the goal would be to look at this existing building, especially once Judicial Services have moved out and how to best utilize this building – how to eventually bring human services back (to the courthouse),” Schwartzman said. “The study is to do a 20-year projection – a five-, 10-, 15- and 20-year analysis – of what the current staff, what the current projections of the staff might be and come up with an assessment for those types of spaces and how to best utilize the building.”

Commissioner Darek Vetsch asked about the status of the old county jail, which has remained largely vacant and not fully utilized because the cell space doesn’t translate well to use as office space where county departments would be housed. Schwartzman said because of the unique nature of jails, they often don’t translate well in reconstruction or remodeling projects.

“There are options for it,” Schwartzman said. “But, because of the hardness of constructing a jail facility, remodeling is not very forgiving. You’ve got a certain amount of value to the buildings you have and the study is to how you best utilize those. At the end of the day, if you paying a bunch of utility costs for that jail to keep it mothballed and there is nothing that can be done with it, one of the options might be can we tear a portion of the building down?”

The BKV study will lay out multiple different options for how to utilize the space in the current footprint, which Commissioner Mike Potter said is necessary for not just the county board, but Wright County residents to make decisions about the future of the Government Center and what is in everyone’s best interests – short-term and long-term.

“If we can get 20 or 30 years out of this facility, fine,” Potter said. “But, if it turns into like the courts study and we’re going to get 10 years and spend $20 million, then we have to start re-thinking another path. This is just information gathering for all the different aspects and all aspects will be on the table.”

In other items on the May 3 agenda, the board:

*Adopted a resolution authorizing Parks & Recreation Director Marc Mattice to sign grant agreements on behalf of the Wright County Snowmobile Association for grant programs for the 2017-18 season. The county handles the accounting functions on behalf of the Snowmobile Association in state grants.

*Authorized Auditor/Treasurer Bob Hiivala to take the lead on the process on developing a job description for the potential hiring of a drainage coordinator position.

*Set a sealed bid opening for the replacement of the roof at the old Public Works Building for 9:30 a.m. at the May 9 board meeting. The roof was damaged during a storm event in March.

*Approved implementing an Employee Wellness Day Program, an incentive-based program to motivate employees to make healthier life decisions.

*Authorized signatures on an OSHA safety grant in the amount of $7,500 from the Minnesota Department of Labor & Industry to cover one-third of the cost of a county safety project.

*Referred discussion of a centralized communications system to the personnel committee.

*Authorized initiating litigation against a property owner in Waverly. The request is pursuant to the county’s power as the drainage authority. The county approved the re-establishment of records for County Ditch 38 and its benefitted landowners. The property owner has denied the county’s engineering firm from completing its surveying work on that portion of Ditch 38, which the county is seeking legal remedies to complete.

*Approved a maintenance agreement with the City of Buffalo to provide snow/ice removal during the 2017-18 winter season in the amount of $4,600.

Freelancer John Holler covers government and the Wright County Board of Commissioners.