For the Redwood County commissioners the decision came down to two options.

Would the best plan be to develop a justice center on the site of the current courthouse with two stories, or would the county be better served by having a one-story justice center with an additional building located adjacent to the new facility renovated for use by some of the existing programs and departments within the current courthouse building?

In the end, after holding a work session with John McNamara of Wold Architects March 26, the board directed him to proceed with the second option. The board had directed plans to proceed with that option earlier in the process. McNamara presented that plan to the board at its March 19 meeting, but it raised concerns about the price tag of that plan with the concern that the county would have a new justice center and an investment of funds into an “old building.”

The building the county is considering is the former human services site just east of the current courthouse, and McNamara said that renovating that facility has an estimated cost of $1.9 million, which does not include the purchase of the building. 

Following a presentation to the commissioners at its March 19 meeting, McNamara was directed to come back with a plan that included a two-story justice center option with an estimated cost. McNamara presented that information to the board during its work session March 26, which came with a price tag of $11.5 million.

He compared that to the estimates of having a single-story justice center building, with an estimated cost of $7.6 million, along with the cost of the human services building upgrades, which came in – with what the board is considering a fair purchase price option – coming in more than $1 million under the two-story building option.

Lon Walling, commissioner, who initially raised the idea of looking at a two-story option at the March 19 meeting, said one of the concerns he saw with that plan now was the issue of security.

One of the reasons for the creation of the justice center was to create a facility with the court system that was secure. Adding other programs that would not be secure in that location could work, but it was a concern to put them together in one space in terms of logistics, Walling added.

Naturally, the board also agreed that the price tag comes into play as the decision is being made.

Jim Salfer, commissioner, said the board does not need to build the Taj Mahal, adding what the county has to have is a secure, functional building that has good flow and meets the needs of those who will be utilizing it.

McNamara put the concern of the “old building” issue to rest, as he said he took a longer look at the human services building and said in a lot of ways it is in good shape. He said with the renovations that are planned for the programs that would move into that site, the building would, for all intents and purposes, be like new. Yes, he added, there are a few other long-term things that would need to be addressed, such as window updates, but that would not need to be done for quite a while. He said that kind of maintenance is going to be necessary in any building.

With the direction from the commissioners McNamara will now proceed with the more detailed design of the plans for both sites, adding he will meet again with the heads of each department to talk about the design. He told the board his intent would be to find ways to potentially cut back on the square footage for the justice center wherever it is possible to help reduce the budget. Once those plans are completed McNamara said they would be given to the people in his office who put together initial estimates for the project.

The current justice center has a 17,800 square foot footprint, said McNamara with an added 1,800 secure link from the new facility to the law enforcement center. Should the plans continue McNamara said he would anticipate construction could begin in September.

He advised the board that he thinks the best option would be to bid the work on the new justice center separately from the work being done at the health and human services building, adding he thinks that would allow for the best bids.