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Commentary - Why rush to build new?

By Bev Bales, Douglas County

commissioner, Carlos, MN

There has been lots of information floating around about the Law Enforcement Center. I'd like to clarify some of the information being spread.

The Law Enforcement Center built in the 1930s is more than three decades newer than the courthouse. It will continue to be used. It won't be torn down.

Six years ago the county hired architects to review that building, including the 1970's middle section. They concluded that the building is in good shape. It is sound structurally with strong walls and terrazo floors in the halls - virtually indestructible. The roof was fixed several years ago, so it is not an issue. The "leaks" on the first floor were from inmates running the washing machines over on the floor above.

The north end does need some upgrading; heating and cooling, windows and replacing some carpeting. The city paid an architect to give them an estimate for upgrading/remodeling. The architect actually just used the plans of the architects hired by the county six years ago for dimensions. He came up with a figure of $2 million. To spend that much, it would become a Taj Mahal! The $2 million figure would mean a cost of $125 a square foot. In comparison, we are paying $85 for the hospital addition being built.

Why the rush to build new? The police department needs more room. But next year when the new jail is open, the entire top floor of the LEC will be vacated by the work release inmates - 14,690 square feet. In that space there is more than enough room for briefing rooms, vault to secure evidence, interview rooms, training, and lots of storage for records and other materials. The records now on the main level can easily be accommodated on the upper level.

The police chief says he doesn't want to be on the second floor. His office can remain where it is right now. There will be much more room for additional offices, if needed, when the stored material is moved upstairs.

With "regionalization" being pushed hard by the governor, there's a strong chance our dispatching will be combined with other counties. If it is put in another county, all the space now used by dispatch will be vacated also. If law enforcement moves out, the space will be used by others. Seems a big waste to make such a change.

I ask, "Is it better to do a small amount of remodeling to continue to accommodate law enforcement, or to build new and then spend much more to remodel for others to use?"