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Courthouse security options presented to county board

At the May 8 county board meeting, Tony Stoll, architect with BHH Partners, Perham, presented six options for new Wadena County Courthouse security measures to be constructed and installed.

Commissioners and an audience of 22 staff, court administration and judicial officers listened closely as Stoll explained each item. For each option, Stoll listed the changes to be made to the Courthouse, the estimated cost of the option and the advantages and disadvantages the option might have.

A committee of 10 people worked with Stoll for several months to develop the options. The committee included two Seventh Judicial District Court judges - Judge Sally Robertson and Judge Jay Carlson, Seventh Judicial District Chief Judge Peter Irvine, Court Administrator Rhonda Bot, Court Operations Supervisor Jeri Scheller, County Attorney Kyra Ladd, Sheriff Mike Carr, Chief Deputy Sheriff Bill Cross, Commissioner Ralph Miller and Commissioner Bill Stearns. All were present at the May 8 meeting.

The security options ranged from installation of a metal detector at one building entrance and restricting access to the courtrooms (Option A-1) at a cost of $15,000 to $20,000, to the most extensive option (Option C-2), which included total security for the entire Courthouse, building a new two-story entrance addition, adding attorney-client meeting space, moving the judge's chambers, moving the law library and installing a new elevator, all at a cost of $347,000 to $377,000.

The option that seemed most acceptable for the people at the meeting was Option C-1. This option included total security for the entire courthouse, building a new two-story entrance addition, adding a catwalk across the space between the new addition and the Courthouse building, moving the law library, moving the judge's chambers and leaving the existing elevator in place. This option was estimated to cost $222,000 to $252,000.

After the options were presented, Stoll invited comments and questions from the staff assembled.

Judge Sally Robertson commented, "All Courthouse employees need security, as well as jurors, citizens coming into the building and others."

Seventh Judicial District Chief Judge Peter Irvine said, "There isn't any security here. Looking at Option C-1 would be the best way to do it. All of these people would be protected, and citizens would know it is safe to do business (in the Courthouse)."

Commissioner Bill Stearns said, "A few years ago, we looked at adding onto the Courthouse. It would have cost $1.3 million just to bring the Courthouse up to code, including installing a sprinkler system, tearing out and rebuilding all the stairways, redoing the bathrooms and so on. But Option C-1 would avoid that because it doesn't add significant square footage to the building or add occupants."

Todd-Wadena Community Corrections Director Kathy Langer said, "I supervise the county's probation programs, and both offenders and victims come into the courthouse for probation meetings that don't take place in the courtrooms. We would like you to look at the whole Courthouse, not just the courtrooms."

County Attorney Kyra Ladd said, "We want security from a liability standpoint. Don't wait for an incident. We have a duty to provide a safe environment."

Board Chair Ralph Miller said, "I don't want to spend even ten cents. However, I look at all the options, and Judge Irvine's life is no more important than anyone else's. Option C-1 satisfies all the needs without triggering the building code changes. We've been dancing, and now it's time to pay the fiddler. I believe it's time to bring this back to the county board for discussion."

Commissioner Dave Hillukka said, "I like the idea, but this is the first time we've seen it, and we have a lot of other buildings to maintain. Let's think this through before we make a rash decision."

Stearns asked, "How much money do we have in the building reserve fund?"

Auditor-Treasurer Char West said, "We have about $500,000, between $500,000 and $525,000."

Commissioners agreed to ask Stoll to prepare accurate costs for mechanical, electrical and structural engineering aspects of the project and bring them to a June meeting of the county board. In the meantime, commissioners will discuss the project at regular meetings of the county board. There is enough money in the building reserve fund to cover the costs of the security measures, whichever option is chosen. No bonding or borrowing would be necessary, according to Stearns.