Friday, January 19, 2018

The current Stillwater County Courthouse will be at least partially renovated.

Crago keeps courthouse proposal alive

Tweaked Proposal
“I think no matter what we do it’s a lot of money. I think we should value the public input.”

Stillwater County Commissioner Mark Crago is not giving up on his proposal that would meet multiple needs involving county office space, the library and a recreation center.
Although the Columbus School District has withdrawn its interest in a swap of the old hospital for 30 acres of land it owns, Crago says his plan would still work by instead just selling the old hospital and building a new fairgrounds at a different site.
And regardless of the direction the commissioners take, he wants to put the matter before the public once more and give “heavy weight” to that input.
“Maybe it’s time we went one more time to feel out to the public wants and then we just make our decision based on the majority of what the public input is,” said Crago during a recent meeting. “If they want to remodel, let’s remodel. If they want to build new, let’s build new.”
After a lengthy discussion, Commissioners Maureen Davey and Dennis Shupak agreed to put the matter to the public, as well as coming up with a plan that takes into consideration all the current and upcoming needs of the community.
“I think that’s the direction we need to head,” said Davey.
Great West Engineering and CTA have both submitted proposals for developing such a plan, which would take an estimated six to eight months and cost between $40,000 and $90,000. That plan would include things such a blueprints and cost estimates to be presented to the public. That time frame includes public hearings. Crago said the cost of that could be at least partially covered through grants and possibly Metal Mines money.

At a regularly held Tuesday afternoon meeting specifically about county office space, Commissioner Shupak said that taxpayers he has talked to favor going “the cheapest way we can” in addressing that issue.
“A lot of them didn’t like the sound of $20 million in debt,” said Shupak.
Crago responded by saying he doesn’t think the project would be a $20 million debt to the taxpayers due to money already saved for the project and possible grants — the latter of which drew an immediate interruption by Commissioner Davey.
“Where we getting grant money?” asked Davey.
Rural Development grants, possible ADA grants, library grants and recreation center grants are all possibilities, said Crago.
In order to get such grants, Crago said the county needs to have a plan of action that outlines the different projects being undertaken — something that currently does not exist. “If we try to do any of them (projects) independent, our qualifications for the grants look less because we’re doing a project here, a project there,” said Crago. “Having plans are what gets you qualified for things.”
With the $3.4 million already saved, plus the $5 million to $6 million in grants that Crago believes is possible to secure, he believes the county can get to a point where it would be borrowing approximately $14 million. He then again explained financing.
“We could maintain a borrowed amount with the current mills we have and still have money left after we service the loan for capital improvements,” said Crago, which means the more than $800,000 the county has been saving for each of the last four years could go directly to that loan payment.
“Maybe,” said Davey.

While Commissioner Davey agreed to flesh out Crago’s proposal a bit more and put the options before taxpayers again, she voiced her objection to the price tag.
“I’m not for $20 million or $22 million. There’s got to be a cap on this thing because I’m not in favor of putting the county in debt. I know we can look at the grants and stuff, you know, I’m for that. But I don’t want to put this county in $20 million worth of debt.”
Davey said her husband recently told her that when the current courthouse was built, the county went into debt and “whether it related to it or not, you looked at all the homesteaders that left. They couldn’t afford to live here for one reason or another.”

The question of public input has been discussed repeatedly as of late.
At one of the recent Tuesday afternoon meetings, Shupak said he doesn’t think the commission has ever had countywide public input.
“A few people from around Columbus is about all that’s come,” said Shupak.
When three public meetings were held in 2015 by the commissioners and Spectrum Group Architects, approximately 75 people attended, with the bulk of those at the Columbus meeting. At the May 5, 2015, public hearing in Columbus, approximately 60 people attended. The public comment period was extended to May 19, 2015, with the commissioners accepting letters and emailed input. As of three weeks after that deadline, commissioners had received at least 23 letters or emails. The majority of the public favored remodeling the current courthouse and an on-site construction of a second building.
The options presented ranged from $6 million to $17.54 million and ranged from remodeling the old hospital and current courthouse to building completely new county facilities.
There was no public support voiced for remodeling the old hospital and several people spoke against it.
The options were only for county office space and did not include a library, recreation center or new fairgrounds.

Under Crago’s plan, the entire $20 million would not be borrowed all at once but rather in segments. Construction of projects would also take place in segments. The only two that would need to be done together would be the move of the fairgrounds and the building of a new law and justice center on that current site.
The proposal is as follows:
•On the current fairgrounds site, construct a new county office building for an estimated $4 million, a new county library for an estimated $2.5 million and convert the Leuthold building to a facilities and county garage for an estimated $200,000.
•Sell the old hospital and use the proceeds towards financing the proposal.
•Build a new fairgrounds to include a 4-H livestock building, a 4-H Expo building, grandstands, maintenance and concessions as well as RV hook-ups for an estimated $10 million.
•Remodel three of the four floors of the current courthouse for law and justice offices for an estimated $3.4 million.
•And finally, at the Granite Peak Sports Complex, build a park and recreation center with an indoor walking track, a multi-purpose floor for tennis courts, basketball, volleyball and fitness area for an estimated $2 million.
Crago, who is a contractor, came up with the figures from the following:
•The courthouse remodel would involve 17,000 square feet at $200 per foot (as was done in Missoula for that same rate).
•The new county office space building would involve 18,900 square feet at a rate of $200 per foot. Crago said the national average of a two to 3-story building with an overage allowance is $140 to $230 per square foot.
•The Leuthold building estimate came from Crago’s experience “as that is a project I used to do on regular basis,” he said.
•The library would involve 10,000 square feet at $200 per foot plus an allowance for new and books furniture.

A second structural assessment of the old hospital has deemed the building to be in “adequate” structural condition with some signs of flexural stress in the foundation.
The assessment was conducted by Krivonen Structural Consultants of Billings at the request of the Stillwater County Commission. The results were discussed in a meeting Tuesday afternoon.
The report states the following:
“With the previous mentioned observations, we would categorize the condition of this facility between an Architectural-Functional level at this point. This is based on the fact the defects overall have created only aesthetic issues with the exception of a few locations that have some limited functional issues (i.e. damaged roof sheathing from leaking, cracking in the basement foundation walls, etc.).”
The report did note that the “basement foundation walls are significantly under-reinforced” and additional reinforcing/shoring of the wall is recommended.
Commissioner Mark Crago opened the discussion by saying he was concerned that the inspection was only a cursory walk-through.
“I guess I thought we were going to have a little more dirt-on-the-jeans type of inspection,” said Crago.
Commissioner Maureen Davey agreed that it would be “a good idea” to ask further questions.
In a recorded conversation with the company last week, the inspector said he found nothing that raised concerns based on his visual inspection of the building. He said it is possible that there are problems due to roof leaks and noted that he did not enter the crawl space.
Commissioner Maureen Davey said she would like a closer look taken at the crawl space and asked what it would take to get that accomplished.
“There had been some mention of mold in there at some point. I was just curious on that,” said the inspector.
Commissioner Dennis Shupak said a leak had occurred when the heater had frozen up and sewer pipes broke “or were rotted off or something.” The heater was shut down when that was discovered.
“I have never heard that Dennis,” Davey told Shupak in the meeting.
Samples from the crawl space have been sent out to test for mold and asbestos, but the results are not yet back. Once those results are known, Krivonen will be called back to conduct an inspection of the crawl space.