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Wadena Board reduces scope of court remodel project

Wadena commissioners heard an updated report from BKV Architect Bruce Schwartzman on June 9 on the estimated costs of the court remodeling project that has been on the books for about 10 years.

The project was brought back to life after Commissioner Jim Hofer talked with Schwartzman at the annual Association of Minnesota Counties (AMC) meeting in December 2013. Schwartzman's firm specializes in court and law enforcement work for local governments.

In April Schwartzman presented commissioners with a cost estimate for the project that included everything that Seventh Judicial District judges and court services personnel asked for, including complete remodeling of the county's two courtrooms, moving the judges' chambers, installing new bathrooms, redoing the jury room area, adding security features to the lobby, putting in an inmate elevator, building attorney-client conference rooms and upgrading electronic technology. The estimate came in at just over $800,000.

Commissioners told Schwartzman in April that the county could not afford that amount, and asked him to return with a scaled-down project with reduced costs. The June 9 report proposed a revised remodeling project without the elevator and most of the electronic technology, and came in at an estimated $594,000.

The revised remodeling project proposed that the work be done in two phases, with the courtroom remodeling first, and the rest of the work second. The idea was to spread the project over 2014 and 2015 to make it feasible for the county to pay for it.

But commissioners told Schwartzman — much to the dismay of Judge Sally Robertson and Seventh District Chief Judge John Scherer, who attended the meeting — that even $594,000 was too much. The board seemed ready at one point in the meeting to give up on the entire remodeling project.

But after considerable discussion, commissioners agreed to let Schwartzman try again to fashion a proposal that would meet court needs, yet be affordable. The group in attendance suggested removing several aspects of the revised project, reducing its scope still further.

This third version of the project would cost about $415,000, and be done in one phase. Schwartzman agreed to revised the estimate and email it to the board overnight, in time for the June 10 county board meeting.

"We're used to working all night on things," he joked.