Commissioners identify priorities for county space needs

Wadena County commissioners identified priorities and gave their wish list for solving the courthouse space needs during a visit from Tony Stall of Baker, Hogan and Houx Architecture and Planning in Perham.

Wadena County commissioners identified priorities and gave their wish list for solving the courthouse space needs during a visit from Tony Stall of Baker, Hogan and Houx Architecture and Planning in Perham.

All of the commissioners agreed creating a law library that is accessible to the public and updating the courthouse's heating, ventilation and air conditioning system are the two top priorities.

They also agreed that any decision about remodeling the courthouse or the Wensman Building will need to be based on a set of plans addressing cost comparisons that Stall will draw up.

Last spring the county installed a 6-inch water line under the Wensman Building while the adjacent road was dug up during a reclaiming project to accommodate a possible remodel. Stall also drew a set of plans for the possible phased-in remodel of the building.

Commissioner Lane Waldahl said that the courthouse is the main building and from a tax payer perspective it is more important to put money into remodeling the courthouse.


"To me it would be cheaper than moving everyone to the Wensman Building and redoing an old building," he said.

The Wensman Building is good for cold storage and trucks, he said.

"I think for offices and that ... it's better here," he said about the courthouse.

He suggested adding three walls and a roof above the jail as a possible option for expansion. The building is designed for the addition of offices above but not cells, he said.

That kind of an addition sounds simple when designing it, Stall said, but you have to remember that whatever is done above affects everyone below.

Waldahl also suggested the possibility of adding three walls and roof to the north side of the building.

Commissioner Mary Harrison said she comes from a totally different angle than Waldahl, but ultimately the board will need facts and figures before deciding who's right.

Harrison hates the idea of adding onto the north side of the building, she said. Her opposition comes from an aesthetic standpoint rather than a practical one, though. Unless it's well designed this kind of addition creates a "hodge podge building that looks like the dickens" and doesn't work well, she said.


"Right now this is one of the few attractive spots in town," she said.

People looking to invest in Wadena see the town with different eyes than locals do, she said. The town is very closed in with no trees and green space.

She also has a feeling that if they try and build on top of the jail it would mean vacating the jail awhile and that would be cost prohibitive, she said.

The cost of shipping inmates out would need to be figured into the soft cost of the remodel, Stall said. He will need the county to provide that information.

Chairman Bill Stearns would like to the know the number of days or the number of months the jail space would be vacated, he said to Stall. What would be done with the HVAC and other equipment on the top of the roof also needs to be looked at.

Another challenge in the remodel will be incorporating the needs of the department heads, Stall said. Too many times people have built with a lack of funds and run out of space in a year.

Commissioner Dave Schermerhorn said the courthouse needs to be maintained regardless of whether or not anything is moved to the Wensman Building.

A separate line item to get the courthouse updated so it can operate for the next 30 to 40 years needs to be part of any equation, Stall said.


Commissioner Orv Meyer said he was pretty open to all ideas pending the cost survey.

His only concern with adding the offices over the jail is that the selection of what offices can move there is very limited. The offices will have to be related to the court system. The county attorney's office is the only one he thinks will be able to operate there.

Meyer also expressed concern over a suggestion Waldahl made to put the law library in the commissioner's room.

Law librarys are under utilized by the public and don't justify using a quality room, he said.

Stearns brought the discussion back to the Wensman Building. He would like Stall to consider a phased remodel of the Wensman Building, he said, with a multipurpose room that could serve as the commissioner's room. He also wants Stall to meet with officials at Minnesota State Community and Technical College--Wadena to discuss having students contribute labor for the possible Wensman Building remodel.

Stearns brought up the issue of parking around the courthouse as another cost factor commissioners will have to include in their decisions.

Stall agreed. His office uses a formula to figure out parking space numbers, he said.

"That's just going to depress everybody because that's going to tell you how deficient you are," Stall told the commissioners about the parking situation.


Stall asked if keeping things moving as quickly as possible is the time line commissioners want.

For the HVAC system it is, Waldahl said.

Stall plans to bring an engineer to Wadena next week, he said. He will also talk with maintenance worker Cody Yglesias. He plans to visit the county board at one of its January meetings with his findings.

What costs the least and what works best down the road is what is most important, Harrison said.

The construction costs and other related costs will matter more than each commissioner's personal feelings about the remodel, Harrison said.

"With the financial situation of a poor county we'll have to do what is economically feasible," she said.

What To Read Next
Get Local