Portage County staff: Facility needs are real and costly
Consultant would help get discussions on track
BY MIKE WARREN
STEVENS POINT – Portage County officials are being asked – one way or another – to deal with looming space and facility needs. That’s what members of the county’s Space and Properties Committee heard July 25.
Facilities Director Todd Neuenfeldt provided a report on various phases of remodeling and specific items which have been discussed.
A single-point access at the County/City Building has gotten the most attention in recent weeks. Neuenfeldt put that price tag at $1 million.
As for a complete courthouse remodel, Neuenfeldt gave an estimate of $35 million “to redesign the courthouse to make it the most modern courthouse we can.”
Neuenfeldt added, “Pretty much everything is up for grabs right now. Nothing’s guaranteed to be in its location afterwards,” he told Space and Properties Committee members. “But it would definitely take the courthouse shell and rearrange things inside to make it the most modern courthouse we can make it, improving security and efficiencies.”
That work would include new HVAC systems, updated elevators, new fire sprinkler systems, and windows, new IT wiring throughout the building and construction costs.
“I don’t see putting $35 million into a building when we don’t know what the next county board’s gonna vote for or whatever, whether the courthouse is gonna stay downtown or the jail’s gonna stay downtown or (move) out to a green space,” said committee member Mike Splinter.
“The $35 million is a placeholder,” Neuenfeldt clarified. “In all reality, that could come in at 28. It could come in at 45. We don’t know. What I’m trying to identify here is that it’s a significant amount of money. It’s a significant investment,” he added. “We know it’s never going to be a modern courthouse. We know it’s never going to solve everybody’s issue and all the issues. But, we do know that we can make it better.”
Neuenfeldt also reported numerous needs at the county’s Annex, including replacement of an aging chiller (1998), which he said is past its life expectancy, and the current lead times for new ones are approximately one year. There is also a need for roof replacement, parking lot re-surfacing and elevator upgrades, including new controls (existing repair parts are no longer available).
As for the Law Enforcement Center, Neuenfeldt listed the need for a new generator and a new chiller, both of which are past life expectancy.
As for the Ruth Gilfry Building, which was the victim of recent flooding due to a water main break, Neuenfeldt said now would be the time to look at remodeling the facility.
“We’re looking at pretty significant rebuild down there,” he said. “This is the time to…if we wanna move an office, if we want to make some conference space, if we need to add restrooms, if we need to add fire sprinklers, which I’m told we don’t.
“I don’t have an estimate yet,” Neuenfeldt continued. “We’re hoping to kind of narrow that down to between this amount and that amount by next week, but that one right now we’re still trying to identify the scope before we can give you an estimate.”
All told, Finance Director Jennifer Jossie said the cost of the new projects identified by Neuenfeldt total $39.5 million.
“Annually we project…we try to hit about a million dollars of tax levy to the budget,” said Jossie. “But any time we start exceeding over a million dollars that’s when we start to look to borrow.”
That discussion led into a presentation by Jossie regarding a proposal to hire consultant Cino Adelson of St. Paul-based Cinovations to provide consulting services related to Master Facility Planning.
“The idea of the proposal is to facilitate conversation with the county board and stakeholders to determine whether or not there’s a path forward regarding projects,” Jossie told Space and Properties Committee members. “As staff we’ve kind of talked about (how) we’ve spent money multiple times on studies, multiple times on concepts and, for whatever reason, we have kind of this continued failure of moving forward with a project. And we’re caught in this trap of we want to talk about new facilities and new construction and new building projects, and we don’t move forward, so then we revert back to talking about maintaining and repairing existing facilities, and then we discuss, well we might build a building, and we kind of are in this kind of circle.”
In a memo to committee members sent prior to the meeting, Jossie stated, “The failed financing vote for the proposed courthouse and jail facility project has essentially put the future of any facility project on a permanent hold, yet the county has not addressed or resolved the issues which brought the project forward in the first place.”
In the meantime, Jossie said the indecision on the part of county board members means no county master facility project is proceeding forward.
“So this proposal is to look at if there is feedback from members of the board and stakeholders to determine a specific or an area of a project that there’s some agreement on, so that staff can bring forward a concept or a plan that we feel that there might be success in moving forward, that we can work on that,” said Jossie. “We’re kind of stuck, in terms of which is the plan to work on, what do we bring forward. We’re talking about now a jail/LEC (Law Enforcement Center) model. For me personally, it’s a little hesitant to go spend money on something that we might bring forward that might not make it to actually that next page or next phase,” Jossie added.
“Staff is eager to resolve the issues the county faces in our existing facilities, but needs a better understanding of the path to make the right proposal a reality,” Jossie’s memo reads. “Staff is presenting the consulting proposal with Cinovations as a means to assist in gaining better understanding of why the previous proposal failed, while also determining if there are any scenario(s) that staff could work to develop for future consideration.”
The draft proposal from Cinovations includes three distinct phases, which include: Small group meetings of key stakeholders to advise the consultant in determining process, questions, and protocol – the planning/design group is proposed to be staff/professional experts or non-decision makers; Individual interviews with key stakeholders – to determine the status of where we are starting from and the potential of any ability to develop a consensus among the group in an anonymous manner; Report findings to the Space and Properties Committee and then report to the full County Board of Supervisors.
“The nature of this is an unbiased third party,” Jossie told the committee. “There’s no perceived outcome already in place, in terms of a path forward.”
Jossie also said in her memo any information gathered would not be identified by a specific supervisor’s name. Any information shared would be done anonymously or generally in the report.
District 8 Supervisor Joan Honl supported the idea of hiring the outside consultant.
“We are so stuck as a board,” Honl told Space and Properties. “We have to find a way to become unstuck because it’s getting embarrassing I think. And I think that this kind of a process can help us focus on what our values are when it comes to our civic buildings. Personally, I felt bad about not voting for funding the Law Enforcement Center when we took that vote (May 2) because I’m a big proponent of safety,” Honl added. “If we have a skilled person who’s used to doing this, who can pull that out of us and bring us to some of those values. Maybe that will help us go forward, because we’re stuck. We have to do something or we will be the board that let everything crumble around us, and I don’t think there’s a person on this board that wants that.”
The amount of the proposed Cinovations contract is $31,500, with a completion date of October 31.
The Space and Properties Committee approved the resolution and sent it on to the full county board for consideration.
Meanwhile, the next meeting of the Space and Properties Committee is scheduled for Sept. 5 at 3:30 p.m. in Annex Conference Room 1 and 2.