County development projects still on the table

A proposal for a new Carlton County building project is now in the hands of the county's building committee following a motion at Tuesday's meeting of the board of commissioners.

A proposal for a new Carlton County building project is now in the hands of the county's building committee following a motion at Tuesday's meeting of the board of commissioners.

If the project was to move ahead, the initial plan was to house office space for the Carlton County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD), the Minnesota Extension Service and Twin Lakes Township, with the hope that significant savings would be realized by eliminating rent payments currently being expended on behalf of the SWCD and Extension.

The preliminary building design presented at an earlier meeting by County Economic Development Director Pat Oman called for a 10,100-square-foot building with a price tag of approximately $1.5 million.

At that time, Commissioner Ted Pihlman suggested the cost per square foot might go down as the result of "squaring up" the building's otherwise asymmetrical footprint, adding additional space might be generated as well. Along those lines, Commissioner Dick Brenner suggested the Carlton County Children and Families Collaborative could use a centralized space to house its offices, since they are currently scattered throughout several different locations.

The board gave Oman the go-ahead to look into an alternate design with the caveat that the process would not cost the county additional planning money.


Oman presented an update at Tuesday's meeting, indicating the engineering firm of SEH had redrawn the building design accordingly. He indicated the new design would increase the overall size to 12,000 square feet but would also increase the cost to $1.9 million. Oman said the new plan would add approximately 200 additional square feet to the proposed Extension office as well as allow for space to possibly relocate the Economic Development Office currently located at the courthouse in Carlton.

He went on to say that while the initial design would accomplish the county's goal to equal out the rents currently being paid on behalf of the SWCD and the Extension Service, the second plan would exceed that amount.

"I think it is still worthy of discussion, however," said Oman.

He said he has identified two possible funding sources for the project thus far, including the possibility of obtaining a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) grant for building construction.

"The caveat is, however, that the county would first have to show there is no other way to fund it, such as through bonding or levying," said Oman. He went on to suggest that the SWCD might take a look at applying for the loan themselves, but added that possibility is still being looked into to see if they would qualify.

Oman said the county might also take a look at applying for Small Cities Grant funding, though it is not available for further applications until the end of the year.

Additional costs that could further augment the cost of the building, according to Oman, may include the requirement for a sprinkler system and the cost of bringing broadband connectivity to the proposed building, since it would not be served by the newly installed fiber optic lines.

"I think this has reached the point where we need to get the building committee involved," commented Brenner.


The board unanimously supported the proposal, with the understanding that all of the entities involved would be invited to the table for input or to answer questions if needed. Members of the county's building committee include Brenner, Commissioner Marv Bodie, County Engineer Wayne Olson, Sheriff Kelly Lake and Health and Human Services Director Dave Lee.

Oman also updated commissioners on the progress of the county's proposed Highway 210 residential and light industrial development, stating that work on an Environmental Assessment Worksheet (EAW) is currently under way. Oman said he will meet with representatives of the Fond du Lac Resource Management Department later this week to discuss concerns over possible archeological findings along a trail through the property that could be of significance. Oman said an archeological expert may be brought in to do some digs in the vicinity of the trail, once its location is pinpointed, so any findings can be incorporated into the EAW.

In other action, the board unanimously supported a plan for the Arrowhead Library System to merge with the North Country Library Cooperative (NCLC). Terry Anderson, who serves on the boards of both entities, explained to commissioners that the move comes as a cost-saving measure that will streamline current duplications and cut down on administrative expenses, allowing more of the budget to be expended on direct services to users.

The board gave its final approval to authorize Al's Aerial Spraying to fly over roughly the eastern third of Carlton County later this spring for gypsy moth control. The process is expected to take two to three weeks, and the sheriff's office will be notified in advance of the exact dates and times in case calls come in regarding low-flying airplanes.

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