10/12/2013 2:15:00 PM County to renovate Citizens Building
by Paul Martin
Goodhue County Board looked at their space needs once more on October 1, and came near to consensus.
Faced with the need to demolish the Public Health Building, and their goal of bringing the amalgamated Public Health and Social Services Departments together under one roof, they have been deciding on whether to build new, or to renovate the Citizens Building. This landmark building is currently home to the Social Services Department. Attempts to sell or lease it have been unsuccessful. As Chair Dan Rechtzigel put it, "We could sell it for $1, but the problem for buyers is the $4 million they would have to put into it."
As reported recently, the Board has been hoping the Goodhue County Historical Society would be interested in moving into the building. This would give them a more accessible location, and a much higher profile in the community. Hopes were high that the County, the City of Red Wing and the Historical Society could work together, and raise most of the cost from individual donors, foundations, businesses, and above all the State Legacy Fund.
Those hopes were dashed this week, however, as it became clear the Historical Society is really not enthusiastic about moving. Without their active support, Commissioners agreed that the move can't go ahead. Rechtzigel said, "This is a huge missed opportunity. I am very disappointed." Commissioner Ron Allen, who also sits on the Historical Society's Board, said, "They have been trying to put their financial house in order under their new management. For the first time in years, their 2014 budget will be in the black. They see too many unknown variables in this project." Speaking later, Historical Society Board Chair Roseanne Grosso said that a great deal of their mission is education, and their current location is well suited to that. She hopes County support will continue at a strong level.
Build New or Renovate?
For the Administrative Department, Stacy Thuman once again gave the Board latest estimates for building new on the site of the Public Health building. The new building would cost an estimated $7.724 million, versus an estimated $4.380 million for renovating the Citizens Building. Both figures include other necessary maintenance costs, furniture, moving costs, new Information Technology (IT), and also a new roof, cooling tower and generator for the Government Center. They do not include the cost of renting office space during renovation, or the cost of temporary IT provision. The County will finance the costs through issuing bonds. The time is favorable, as old bonds will be paid off in 2014, and construction costs are still low.
The advantage of building new is that all staff would be close together in a modern building, and, at 44,000 square feet, all foreseeable space needs would be met for years to come. "Currently," said Administrator Scott Arneson, "We have staff spread over three buildings and eight floors, with six front desks. It is terribly inefficient."
The Citizens Building only provides 18,000 square feet, but Commissioners realize that, since they have had no luck selling it or leasing it, they will have to put money in for its renovation. Leaving it to decay is not an option. Commissioners are hopeful that more efficient use of space in the Government Center, and skillful planning in the Citizens Building, will go much of the way to closing that gap in square footage. However, it is likely they will have to build an extension on the Citizens Building. The recent feasibility study proves this will be possible. Staff were authorized to move ahead, and look for space to rent while the renovation proceeds.
South Country Health
Alliance a Success
Rechtzigel reported good news from South Country Health Alliance. The Alliance started in 1999, and brought together 14 Counties in southeast Minnesota to share resources in providing health care for residents who qualify for Medicaid or MNCare. The Alliance receives money from State and Federal funding for its clients, who are all means-tested.
As the health of those served has improved, the Alliance has gradually been able to raise a surplus, and funded preventative services such as colorectal testing, prenatal screening and basic health care for the elderly. Three Counties left the Alliance in 2011, when its financial position was not good. Rechtzigel paid the Board credit for staying with the program, and said they are now reaping the benefits from doing so, as costs fall steadily, and reserves reach very healthy levels.
Zoning Ordinance Changes
In other business, the Board voted through a package of small changes to the County zoning ordinance. Owners of property zoned as Agricultural will now be able to build up to 7,200 square feet of non-agricultural buildings. Radio towers will be allowed closer to the edge of bluffs. "We found that, if we insisted on ¼ mile setbacks, the towers just needed to be built taller," said Chief Planning Officer Mike Wozniak.