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Wadena Board's strategic planning meeting yields no decisions

The Wadena County Board held a two-hour strategic planning meeting about county facilities on Tuesday afternoon, March 18, in the Courthouse auditorium.

The county is confronted with an office-space crisis, and needs to make some immediate decisions about where to move some employees to make room for a new county coordinator, the expansion of the County Attorney's Office, and the Courthouse remodeling project.

As he opened the meeting, Chair Bill Stearns said, "There's no more room at the inn, ... and we need to do something different. The building formerly known as Wensman needs to be looked at as a place to go.... The 'row offices' [Auditor/Treasurer, Assessor, Recorder] are what we're looking at. This building [that we're in] is first and foremost a Courthouse" and the justice system needs more room here to expand."

A majority of the commissioners are considering the Wensman Building as the target for remodeling to house several county departments within the next year or so.

Stearns presented the commissioners and eight department heads with a list of questions that he hoped would guide the facilities discussion. Unfortunately, those in attendance got stuck on question No. 1: What departments currently located in the Courthouse, not having a direct relationship with the justice system, have critical "adjacencies" with other departments?

By "adjacencies," Stearns meant working relationships that required a department's employees to interact one or more times per day, so that they need to be located physically close to one another. "Adjacency" in this sense is a term borrowed from architecture.

Stearns asked department heads from the County Assessor, Planning and Zoning, County Recorder, County Auditor, and County Treasurer to list the departments they worked with most closely on a daily basis.

The conclusion that emerged from this discussion was that a cluster of four departments needed to be co-located: Assessor, Geographic Information System (GIS), Planning and Zoning, Auditor/Treasurer. None of these departments could accomplish its work without the assistance of the other three.

After everyone realized that these four departments needed one another, Stearns identified the departments as Phase I of what would be a multi-phase reorganization of county department locations.

Next, the discussion turned to determining what would have to be done in the Wensman Building to allow these four departments to move there as quickly as possible.

County Engineer Ryan Odden identified the immediate needs: bathrooms, a sprinkler system, HVAC, a break room, and the electrical set-up. Later, someone else pointed out a major plumbing project that involved tearing out the floor of the building and replacing the plumbing runs and then the floor itself. And then there were the building materials, windows, doors, architect fees, and IT costs.

An effort at estimating the total cost of remodeling the building stalled at about $3 million total. But people seemed to think that the initial work could be done for under $500,000 to get the four departments moved over there.

In 2008, architect Tony Stoll designed and created a series of layout drawings for the Wensman Building. At that time the estimated cost of remodeling was $5 million.

After that, the structure of the building was reinforced according to an engineer's recommendation, and insulation was added. The building received a fully-adhered rubber roof and a resurfaced parking lot. So those costs will not be needed in the proposed new remodeling project.

At the end of the two hours, none of the rest of Stearns' discussion questions had been addressed and there was still no office identified for the county coordinator.

To move forward, commissioners asked the Lee Brekke, County Assessor, and Deana Malone, Director of Planning and Zoning, to measure extra space in Brekke's office suite to see if GIS could be moved there temporarily. If there is enough space, then Malone would move into the former GIS space, and the county coordinator could be housed temporarily in Malone's former office.

The two were to report back on March 25 at 1 p.m. to the next Strategic Planning meeting.