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Building problems plague county

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St. Croix County Finance Committee members heard updates on building projects July 3 but delayed action until the County Board begins to address related problems or until the committee meets with contractors.

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The agenda for the July 15 board meeting includes discussion of the County Nursing Home. The Health and Human Services Committee asked for this discussion after voting to ask the County Board to consider building a new nursing home and a 20-unit assisted living facility.

In March the Board voted to take the nursing home issue to a citizen referendum in November, but some supervisors have argued for canceling the public vote and proceeding with building a new facility.

These are the projects discussed last week:

• Health and Human Services Building repairs.

In May a local contractor estimated it would cost $255,000 to repair water damage to the foundation, windows and walls of the HHS building in New Richmond.

Last week Building Services Director Art Tobin suggested starting to deal with the worst problems now.

The consensus seems to be that the county has an obsolete building and major improvements aren't justified, but the committee could rationalize that some repairs are necessary if people will be working in the building even for a brief time, summarized Supervisor Daryl Standafer.

"I want employees working in safe, reasonable environments," he said.

"My biggest concern is keeping the moisture out of this building and making sure we don't have mold in there," said Tobin.

Supervisor Buck Malick suggested abandoning and sealing off parts of the building and moving employees to other, possibly rental, offices.

Another option would be to move some staff to the Agricultural Services and Education Center in Baldwin, said Tobin.

The county has to decide what it's going to do with the nursing home before it can decide what to do with Health and Human Services Department offices, said Administrative Coordinator Chuck Whiting.

Once the nursing home decision is made, a lot of other things can be taken care of, he said.

A suggestion was made to have a consultant look at building use issues.

"I think sometimes consultants are brought in because the political situation isn't clear," responded Whiting.

The county has done studies, he said.

"What we need are some decisions."

Committee members agreed to table HHS building discussions until their next meeting.

• A replacement heating and air conditioning system for the County Government Center.

The board has discussed replacing the current chiller/boiler equipment with a geothermal system using an outside well field. Test wells were drilled earlier this summer.

Tobin said the most recent estimates on the geothermal system are conservatively $2.2 million to $2.3 million. A construction schedule provided by Karges-Faulconbridge engineers indicates that if the project starts Aug. 1, the new system won't be fully operational until June 1, 2009.

The estimated cost of replacing the chiller/boiler system with similar equipment is $1.7 million, and Tobin said Trane representatives believe they can cut $200,000 to $300,000 from that price.

Tobin said the geothermal system is expected to cost about $21,000 less a year to operate, but with rising fuel costs, that's hard to predict.

He said his recommendation is to go with the chiller system.

"It's proven technology. It's old technology. It's high efficiency technology. It's $500,000 cheaper," he said.

Also, said Tobin, it would be easier to add capacity to the chiller/boiler system if the government center is enlarged.

He suggested a special committee meeting to discuss options.

• The government center roof.

The county has received estimates ranging from $226,563 to $494,328 to replace the government center roof.

The least expensive alternative is to remove existing rock ballast, repair the roof and reinstall the ballast. The more expensive options involve removing rock ballast, installing new membrane roofing and adding insulation.

Committee members asked for more information on warrantees and agreed to take this up again at the next meeting.

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