Carlton County officials look to lower justice center costs by $2.7M

Some of the mechanical estimates came in over budget by $2.7 million, which has led officials to see if they can lower costs elsewhere.

FILE: Carlton County Transportation
The Carlton County Transportation Building.
Izabel Johnson / 2021 file / Pine Journal
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CLOQUET — Carlton County Board of Commissioners will vote on a guaranteed maximum price for its justice center project during a special board meeting Thursday, July 21, but before then county staff are looking to bring the construction cost of the project down by $2.7 million.

During a justice center committee of the whole meeting on Monday, July 18, jail administrator Paul Coughlin said officials want to lower construction costs from $68.7 million to $66 million.

The city of Carlton held a meeting to start the discussion on changes to the Carlton Ambulance Service and possibly increasing funding from the municipalities it serves.

Some of the mechanical estimates came in over budget by $2.7 million, which Coughlin said has led the county to see if it can lower costs elsewhere.

"We're working really hard to get it as close (to $66 million) as possible," he said. "We don't want to take things out of the building that make it unusable ... we just have to figure out how we can do it so it is manageable from a financial standpoint."

Despite the short timeline, county staff are looking into where the savings can be made to reach the goal of $66 million. The worst case scenario for the county on Thursday would be seeting the guaranteed maximum price at $68.7 million, Coughlin said.


While officials hope to reduce construction costs, they have also projected $9 million in soft costs for the project. These costs include outfitting the building with furniture; paying for permits; and connecting the utility lines.

Officials have already lowered some of the soft costs by removing a contract for state efficiency requirements that was needed if the county was to receive funding for the project from the Legislature, which would have cost $100,000.

Coughlin said a lot of the requirements were met in the design stage as the county looked to make the most energy efficient building as possible.

Once the board votes on the guaranteed maximum price, Coughlin said that will make the project official as the price is reflected in the designs and work officials have already done.

Although the project will be finalized, the county is still waiting for the outcome of the local action sales tax vote on the November ballot to determine how to move forward with its next bonding requests.

Sheriff Kelly Lake gave an update during the meeting on the county's work to create educational material to let voters know how voting for or against the sales tax could affect them.

A one-page mailer is currently in the works and will go out to Carlton County residents. Lake said the intent is to make it simple and clear and also have links to the county's website for more information.

Officials also plan to have a booth at the county fair solely dedicated to the justice center. County officials, staff and board members will be present to answer questions from the public.


Coughlin also took the time during the meeting to explain why delaying the project by a year would not be a feasible idea — a question he had been asked by the public and commissioners.

The main reason is the Minnesota Department of Corrections sunset date for the jail being for July 31, 2023.

Officials are confident they can get an extension for the justice center, as its expected completion is 2024; however both Lake and Coughlin said an extension is highly unlikely if the project is not under construction when they make the request.

Delaying the project could also increase costs, Coughlin said, with projections ranging from an extra $6 million to $9.6 million depending on inflation.

Dylan covers the local governments of Cloquet and Carlton County, as well as the Esko and Wrenshall school boards for the Cloquet Pine Journal.
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