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HHS project on track, on budget

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St. Croix County Administrator Pat Thompson assured County Board members that construction to relocate Health and Human Services offices in a former grocery store has not gone over budget.

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The department will soon be moved from the St. Croix Health Center (1445 N. Fourth St.) to the former County Market grocery store (1752 Dorset Lane).

“I believe some of the confusion is related to how the project changed over time,” said Thompson of concerns of going over budget.

The initial plan was to relocate some of the HHS staff temporarily to 18,000 square feet of rented space and the rest to a county-owned building in Baldwin. Preliminary cost estimates were $600,000 to $1.5 million, Thompson said.

He presented those estimates to the board. But after the county received and analyzed bids to rent space, the County Board decided to buy the County Market building for $1.3 million and renovate 28,000 square feet to accommodate the entire HHS staff. At that time the construction hadn’t been planned or bid, and the County Board was told the project would cost an estimated $3 million.

Then the board hired Hoffman Planning and Design, a firm that was already doing design work for a new Health Center, to design and manage construction on the HHS facility. After a review with staff, Hoffman recommended that 28,000 square feet would be appropriate for the offices.

Bids were solicited and reviewed by a selection committee that eliminated $125,000 from the base project and cut $435,000 of alternatives.

The bids reviewed by the Administration Committee included roughly $1.3 million to buy the building, $2 million for construction, $85,000 for construction alternatives, $206,000 for construction management fees, $363,000 for furniture, $400,000 for county-supplied equipment and labor and $144,000 for contingencies, Thompson said.

That final budget of $4.5 million has consistently been reported to the County Board ever since, said Thompson, adding that at this point a little over $3 million has been spent.

“Decisions were made to bolster IT and security components, consuming most of the contingency, but the project is still on track to come in within its budget,” Thompson said.

He said construction has gone smoothly, and a ribbon-cutting is planned for 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, July 1.

The new facility will be called the St. Croix County Services Center and will house the Aging and Disability Resource Center, Behavioral Health, Children Services, Economic Support, Public Health and Veterans Services.

‘eBoardroom’

After watching an Internet presentation on the project, the Administration Committee voted not to proceed with an “eBoardroom” system that would have allowed audience members to follow agenda progress on screens as well as sign in on a kiosk if they wished to speak, time them as they spoke and warn as they neared the end of their allotted time.

This would have been the third element of a meeting management project that began in 2012 when the public got electronic access to meeting agendas and materials via an online portal and continued this year when the board began live-streaming all its meetings and meetings of standing committees.

The current system costs $1,455 a month. Adding the third module would mean an extra $475 monthly charge.

“We’ve got a pretty good thing going with what we have in St. Croix County,” said Supervisor Jill Berke of the Town of Troy, who made the motion not to proceed with the third module. She said the new process would be more appropriate for larger assemblies, the board and audience can already see voting as it progresses, and the proposed sign-in process might intimidate audience participants.

This system would be more appropriate for the State Assembly, agreed Supervisor Ron Kiesler of New Richmond. He suggested the transition would confirm “the old adage of government wanting to take something simple and make it more complicated.”

Other business — Approved these transfers from the Contingency Fund: $32,200 for 2013 air conditioner rental for the old HHS offices; up to $30,000 for 2014 air conditioner rental; $6,849 to relocated the K-9 facility; and $17,660 for a computer server for the Health Center.

— Voted to sell a 3.12-acre vacant lot in the Town of Somerset to Jeff Harmon for $13,500. The property was taken by the county when the former owner failed to pay property taxes. Bids were solicited several times.

County Clerk Cindy Campbell said the property was appraised at $21,000, Harmon bid three times – offering $5,000 in January, $10,000 in May, and now $13,500.

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Judy Wiff
Judy Wiff has been regional editor for RiverTown’s Wisconsin newspapers since 1996. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and sociology from UW-River Falls. She has worked as a reporter for several weekly newspapers in Wisconsin.
(715) 426-1049
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