Finally, progress

Published 1:34 pm Saturday, November 22, 2008

It was all about progress and cooperation when Mower County and City of Austin officials and staff discussed the jail and justice center project Friday morning.

Last week saw a dramatic change to the cityscape in downtown Austin that left Steve’s Pizza in an “island of rubble,” as owner Steve Davis described it, when officials and staff met at the Mower County government center.

The justice center management meeting focused on property acquisition and site development in a two-block downtown area between Second and Fourth Avenues Northeast and First and Second Streets Northeast.

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Every building except one in one block (Second Avenue to Third Avenue Northeast) has been demolished. All that is left are piles of twisted steel, rerod and other metals to be salvaged.

In an aggressive effort by the city, the single block designated for a portion of the jail and justice center facilities was cleared, including the former Usem’s Inc. auto dealership building.

All that is left is Steve’s Pizza, still open for business at its Second Avenue Northeast location.

If that wasn’t a visible indication of the progress being made to clear land for a new jail and justice center, an hour-long discussion of the location of a loading dock at the new facilities was.

A further indication of the cooperative attitude was the Mower County commissioners welcoming Tim Gabrielson to join them in the discussions.

Gabrielson, an Austin insurance agent, was elected to the First District seat on the county board.

Richard P. Cummings, incumbent First District county commissioner, chose not to run again and Gabrielson defeated Dan Vermilyea for a four-year term.

“You’re going to need all the experience you can get and should be a part of this discussion, too,” Cummings told Gabrielson at the start of the meeting.

Site work

County coordinator Craig Oscarson and county engineer Mike Hanson discussed site preparation bids.

Nine bidders are expected to participate in the ground work to prepare the two blocks for the new two-story, 128-bed jail and justice center.

The bids will be opened Dec. 2 and a contract awarded after county board approval Dec. 4.

The site preparation work will begin Dec. 8.

The contractor will work around the Steve’s Pizza building and wait for official vacation of a one-block stretch of Third Avenue Northeast by the city before working that ground.

The site work will be done in April 2009 in time for construction of the facilities to begin.

According to Oscarson, some construction work, such as footings and erection of precast concrete walls will be done around the restaurant to hasten the project along.

Oscarson also confirmed the county has acquired the Robbins Furniture and Design Gallery in the block designated to become another parking lot for the county and a geothermal field.

The owners of Thoroughbred Carpet will vacate their building along First Street Northeast by Dec. 15.

The owners of George’s Pizza, located next to the carpet business, have requested to be allowed to remain at their First Street Northeast location until Dec. 31 or when their new North Main Street (the former South Central Athlete building) is ready to be occupied.

The county board will consider the request at Tuesday’s regular meeting.

According to Oscarson, the Environmental Assessment Worksheet comment period on the Robbins block ends Dec. 4, at which time, the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board will then rule on its future.

The county does not expect any delay in their plans to abate the interior of the complex of retail businesses and demolish the buildings.

Oscarson also said he and Mike Clark, KKE Architects, Inc. architect, attended an Austin Housing and Redevelopment Authority meeting Nov. 19, when the HRA board rejected the county’s request to run over a small parking lot on the southeast corner of the Robbins block for their geothermal field and parking lot plans.

Oscarson said the HRA’s action now limits the county’s plans for a new health and human services building in the block.

Clark said the HRA board’s quick decision will help KKE Architects, Inc.’s geothermal field design work to proceed. It will however result in a drastic reduction of the planned 96,400-foot geothermal wells on the property.

A northeast corner of the Robbins block owned by Tom Sherman remains in limbo because he refused to sell to the county.

The Sherman property is slated to go to district court for condemnation proceedings.


Dave Foley of Construction Management Services, Inc., Rochester, said bid documents will be prepared by Jan. 11 for the bidding process, which should conclude Feb. 11.

If the county board gives its permission to award a contract for the anticipated $36 milllion project, the construction manager could order the precast contract wall material, which, Foley said, will take at least 19 weeks to produce and transport to the Austin construction site.

Foley went to far as to predict a starting date for construction: April 6.

“We can build the box, get a roof up and get it insulated,” he said.

At that point, Ray Tucker, Second District county commissioner, expressed concern about the construction manager’s fast-tracking of the largest capital improvement project in Mower County history.

“I don’t want to award something before we know exactly what the total cost will be,” Tucker said.

The county will partner with the Mower County Housing and Redevelopment Authority Board of Commissioners to issue $10 million in lease-purchase revenue bonds before the end of the year.

Oscarson said he, finance director Donna Welsh and George Eilertson, Northland Securities bond consultant, received good preliminary news on the $10 million in bonds anticipated rating.

The money from the bonds can only be used to fund the construction of the district court portion of the jail and justice center project.


The meeting consumed Friday morning for all, but not without everyone learning more about the project.

For instance:

The size of the center has been reduced from 101,098 square feet to 98,998 square feet at the commissioners’ orders to reduce the cost of the facetious.

There will be no drop-off area at the south main entrance to the facilities from Second Avenue Northeast.

At the city’s requests there will be no pedestrian walkway from the Robbins block parking lot to be constructed to the front entrance. Pedestrians will have to cross at the First and Second Streets Northeast intersections.

Craig Hoium, city planning director, said six of the nine properties to be acquired are now owned by the city. After successful condemnation hearings, a district court judge has ordered the owners of Steve’s Pizza and Anytime Fitness Center to vacate their properties by Dec. 22. The owners of Steve’s Pizza will be allowed to remain at the location until March 1, when they have announced plans to move into the Granle’s Custom Framing and Art Gallery building along North Main Street. The third building, the former Palacio Del Cumbia night club and apartment complex, is slated for a condemnation hearing Jan. 21. However, Hoium indicated the owners’ could agree to turn over the properties to the city before.

After a lengthy discussion, county and city officials directed KKE Architects, Inc. to proceed with a jail and justice center loading dock at the northeast corner of the first block. Presently, the county jail and justice center receive four semi loads of materials four times a week.

Next on the agenda for the commissioners and their architects and engineers is another management update meeting scheduled Dec. 3.

That meeting will focus on the interior of the facilities and discuss paint, wall and floor coverings and other finishes needed.