What will the new Redwood County justice center look like?

Has the decision regarding the future of the current Redwood County courthouse been made?

These are questions the Redwood County Board of Commissioners continues to discuss as it looks at plans and talks about how much the process is going to cost.

The county board held a work session June 25 to talk about the most recent information provided to the board by John McNamara of Wold Architects, which was hired to put together design plans for the development of a new facility and determine cost to demolish the courthouse.

McNamara presented the most recent information to the board June 19.

McNamara said a number of discussions have been held with the departments currently utilizing the courthouse to determine what is needed in a new facility.  Those discussions led to the development of a design that includes 24,000 square feet of space for the courts and those programs that work with that system, such as the county attorney, restorative justice, children’s advocacy and child support.

Two options were presented to the board, including a building all on one level and a design that includes a second level.

One of the challenges in building the new justice center all on one level is space, said McNamara, adding it would require demolition of part of the current courthouse to make enough room for the entire layout.

That, he added, would require moving the people currently using the courthouse to another location while the construction project is under way.

During its work session, commissioners expressed little interest in having to move people to a different location because of the added costs. Using the single level plan would also require the radio tower by the LEC to be moved.

When it came to the actual budget estimate, McNamara said the cost for a 24,000 square foot project would be approximately $275 per square foot, and for that facility the cost would be in the $6.6 million range.

The addition of a secure link from the law enforcement center to the new justice center to ensure security would add $270,000 to the cost, with the demolition of the current courthouse building coming in at approximately $130,000.

With other project costs, such as fees testing, furnishings and contingencies, the total cost estimate presented by McNamara was $9.1 million. The plan presented to the board assumes 2019 construction, and for that to happen the board would need to move forward soon with the detailed design phase.

Work on a project in 2019 would mean putting the project out for bids in a January or February time frame, added McNamara.

During its work session, the board discussed its current outstanding debt balance. The county currently has nearly $7.5 million in bonds it will be paying back for the next several years, with a 2008 general obligation bond and a 2016 refunding bond off of the books in 2024 and a law enforcement bond and recycling facility bond coming off in 2028.

The commissioners stated they were not interested in borrowing $9 million for the justice center project and are hoping with further discussions to try and pare down the project to get the costs lower.

The county does have some funding in reserve, but it also knows it can’t utilize all of those funds, as there are other needs that will be coming down the road that will also require county funds.

The commissioners agreed there is probably some cutting back that can be done with the 24,000 square foot proposals, but they need to know in more detail what is actually necessary for each of the departments and programs to successfully do their jobs.

“Whatever we build is something that has to last for a long time,” said Jim Salfer, county commissioner, adding the decision is not just about today or even 10 years from now. This is a decision that has to go much farther into the future than that. “This is something we need to get right.”

The board will continue to discuss the next steps with the proposed project at future meetings, adding they know this is a decision they can’t just keep putting off as there are priorities, especially courthouse security that need to be addressed.

Costs also continue to keep rising, as the county continues to pay for the growing maintenance needs of the current courthouse building and realizes the fact that with inflation costs for construction will likely not be going down either.