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County pitches courthouse plan, but few turn out to hear details

Posted 10/13/15 (Tue)

County pitches courthouse plan, but few turn out to hear details

By Jody Michael
Divide County Commissioners and representatives from Klein-McCarthy Architects of Bismarck presented their $10.7 million courthouse expansion plans to members of the public during a meeting Thursday evening.
Commissioner Doug Graupe said their desire for a building addition is the result of the Social Services and Sheriff departments, in particular, having outgrown their space. Meanwhile, the Veterans and Public Health departments have left the courthouse entirely because of space issues.
Klein-McCarthy owner and president Scott Fettig said the plumbing in the current building is unsalvageable, with the toilet in the jury room having created a leak in one of the vaults.
“All of the plumbing will be in the new part so we don’t have to tear into this building as much,” Fettig said.
An elevator will replace the current chair lift, which Graupe said has rarely worked properly.
Graupe reiterated the county does not intend to raise taxes for the project.
“If we had to do that, we wouldn’t be building,” Graupe said. “We’ve put away over $2 million that we can pay down.”
The exterior of the addition will be precast concrete with a brick finish “made to as closely match the original as possible,” said Anthony Enright, project manager with Klein-McCarthy.
Residents respond
Art Glasoe asked if an alternative plan, like perhaps making the courthouse only one floor to eliminate the need for an elevator, would generate any cost savings.
“Even in my youth I never liked all the stairs,” Glasoe said.
With the addition coming in at about 25,000 square feet, compared to the 22,000 square feet existing, Commissioner Gerald Brady said the building can not be confined to one floor while keeping north of the existing building, due to the railroad property behind it.
“We’re as far north as we can go with the expansion,” Brady said.
Klein-McCarthy designed the height and width of the addition to be slightly less than that of the existing building in front of it, which Graupe said is so the view of the courthouse from Main Street does not change.
“One of the pieces of feedback we got early on was, ‘We want to be able to see the existing courthouse as it is,’” Graupe said. “‘Don’t do anything that takes away from that view.’”
Liz Pendlay said she understands the desire to renovate, having previously worked in the courthouse as state’s attorney, but found the $10.7 million price tag unsettling.
“North Dakota crude is floating under $40 a barrel, and the idea that anyone’s going to drill in this community right now isn’t very promising,” Pendlay said. “I guess the devil’s advocate in me says, ‘Why are we spending $11 million to chase a ball that we’ve missed?”
Commissioners and architects said the departments are in need of additional space regardless of whether oil activity increases.
“These are addressing current deficiencies,” Enright said. “It definitely wasn’t planning for future growth.”
Moving forward
Graupe said he’s confident in continuing with the current plans.
“In the end, this seemed like the best solution,” he said.
The commissioners plan to finance the project through a 10-year loan from the Bank of North Dakota. Brady said the county has been seeing enough revenue from oil and gas taxes to afford the cost.
Fettig said the project is currently on pace to break ground in April 2016, with construction complete in November of 2017, the year the courthouse turns 100 years old.