County considers new building projectCarlton County commissioners and department heads, meeting as the Committee of the Whole on Tuesday, got their first look at a proposed government building to house the offices of the Soil and Water Conservation District, the University of Minnesota Extension Service and Twin Lakes Township.
By: Wendy Johnson, Pine Journal
Carlton County commissioners and department heads, meeting as the Committee of the Whole on Tuesday, got their first look at a proposed government building to house the offices of the Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD), the University of Minnesota Extension Service and Twin Lakes Township.
County Economic Development Director Pat Oman explained that the building would be owned by Carlton County and utilized by the three entities.
By way of background, Oman said the Carlton County Board approved a proposal last November to fund $1,500 in planning money for a committee, comprised of Oman, representatives of the various stakeholders, and the engineering firm of Short Elliott Hendrickson to determine costs of a building to house the three governmental entities.
One of the first tasks addressed by the group, said Oman, was a needs assessment of the SWCD, the Extension Service and Twin Lakes Township.
He said the group found the office of the local Extension Service, currently located in the Carlton Civic Center, is not handicapped accessible and lacks the quality of space necessary to adequately do business.
He said the SWCD, which also operates in leased space in the city of Carlton, also lacks the quality of space necessary, and Twin Lakes Township, which meets in the Carlton Fire Hall, is lacking office space, storage space and voting space.
Oman said the committee considered a number of existing office spaces for one or all of the governmental entities, including buildings at 317 Chestnut Ave. in Carlton (owned by Paul Vernon), 1634 Highway 210 in Carlton (owned by Ulland Brothers), 199 Chestnut Ave. in Carlton (former home of Carlton County Abstract), and 30 10th St., Cloquet (owned by the county and formerly occupied by Carlton County Public Health).
Oman said while each of the buildings has various pros and cons, none was found to be entirely suitable to house all three entities, so the committee moved on to consider the merits of new construction within the county’s Highway 210 Land Development project adjacent to the current Carlton County Transportation Building. Oman said the committee came up with a plan for a 10,100-square-foot building with office, storage and meeting room space to accommodate all three agencies. Cost estimates for the project came in at roughly $1.4 million to slightly over $1.5 million.
Oman said possible funding mechanisms for the project could include a Small City Development Grant, which he admitted is “extremely competitive” at this time, various state funding mechanisms such as inclusion in a bonding bill, funding support from Twin Lakes Township, the United States Department of Agriculture grant/loan program and the county itself, through either current reserves or a taxpayer levy.
Oman pointed out that the county is currently paying $3,150 a month in combined rent payments for office space to house the Extension Service and the SWCD, and he said he believes the county might actually reduce monthly payments by building a county-owned building to house them.
Oman went on to say the committee’s recommendation at this time is to move forward with the new construction concept.
Twin Lakes Township Chair Diane Felde-Finke was present at Tuesday’s meeting and she said the township endorses the building project. She clarified that the concept has not yet gone before the full board, and added it would have to be presented to the constituency at its annual meeting next Tuesday before any determination is made regarding a financial contribution to the project.
Commissioner Dick Brenner offered a motion to recommend the committee continue to look into the building proposal with the caveat that no more county money be spent on it until more concrete funding information is secured. Members of the Committee unanimously endorsed it.
In related matters, Commissioner Tom Proulx urged the county to consider subleasing the vacant space it holds in Paul Vernon’s insurance company building (formerly occupied by the county’s probation department) until the lease is up, since it is costing the county over $2,000 a month. Commissioner Ted Pihlman urged the county take immediate action on initiating the sale of its former Public Health Building on 10th Street in Cloquet, suggesting the revenue from such a sale might provide additional funding for the proposed new building project.
Commissioner Marvin Bodie stated it is imperative that the county also determine what the operating costs of the new building would be before committing to it.