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County building decisions loom

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Morris, 56267
Morris Minnesota 607 Pacific Avenue 56267

By Kim Ukura

Sun Tribune

If the Stevens County Board of Commissioners stays on track, Stevens County residents could see the long-talked about courthouse remodel and jail construction project begin as early as March 2009. However, the board has still not made a final decision about the scope of their county facilities needs.

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At a work session on Tuesday, the board heard a presentation about the progress representatives of Klein McCarthy Architects and Contegrity had made in the initial planning and research stages for the county building projects.

Klein McCarthy Architects President Scott Fettig and his colleague, architect Mark Schneider, presented two different conceptual drawings of the proposed jail and remodel, and Larry Filippi of Contegrity gave the cost estimates for each of the proposals.

The first concept is to build a new jail, then remodel the top level of the current courthouse into a joint Law Enforcement Center at a cost of about $12.3 million.

The second concept builds the new jail with the Law Enforcement Center stacked on top of the jail. This would allow Human Services to return to the remodeled top level of the courthouse. The total cost estimate for this project was about $14.6 million.

After getting all of that information, board chair Neal Hofland suggested that the next step would be for the board to make a firm decision on the scope of the project. The commissioners decided to tentatively discuss bonds and other financing options at their next work session on Tuesday, May 27.

If that meeting is informative, the board could make a decision at its first official board meeting in June.

The major issue with the second concept is parking - even working with the Morris City Planning Commission to designate parking along the sides of the site; the current plans are still 18 spaces short which is a potential problem. However, Filippi said the Planning Commission seemed "very accommodating in that respect."

In addition to the drawings and cost estimates, Fettig also reviewed some of the questions the board expressed after their tour of the Renville County jail two weeks ago.

One question that arose was how Klein McCarthy arrived at the need for a 40-bed jail. Fettig explained that a jail that size would optimize both staff efficiency and flexibility. Because prisoners are given a classification, and need to be separated based on classifications, the segmented jail design gives the most flexibility for its size. Because of the various classification, the jail would likely be full to about 85-90 percent of capacity most of the time, which is the same number of prisoners that are projected in the county over the next 20 years.

Fettig also estimated that the current jail design would require, at most, the equivalent of 9.5 additional staff members to run the jail - most to provide 24-hour coverage of the jail. However, Fettig seemed confident that some of these positions could be combined while still running a safe and effective jail.

"I think this is a reasonable estimate, and I can't see it going up," he said, "I wish I had some more concrete answers."

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