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County, city to start discussing LEC remodel

Mower County and the city of Austin will officially start discussing the future of key public offices this week.

City and county officials will discuss a report prepared by KKE Architects on the cost of remodeling the law enforcement center and the costs of future options for the health and human services at a public meeting at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday in the board room of the Mower County Government Center.

“This is needed to start the discussion, because I think the public needs to know what are we going to do in the future with this stuff,” said County Coordinator Craig Oscarson.

The city and county are jointly looking into options of how to remodel the law enforcement center to give more room to the Austin Police Department and the Mower County Sheriff’s Department.

Law Enforcement Center remodel: $1.1-$1.7 million

Health & Human Services

Remodel government center: $4.3-$6.3 million

Build on Robbins Block: $5.4-$8 million

Source: Study by KKE Architects in August of 2008
The remodeling of the law enforcement center would cost between $1.1 and $1.7 million, and would be paid for jointly by the city and county.

Though the future is far from certain, there are generally three options for what could come next for health and human services once the county’s lease at Oak Park Mall expires in about four years. The options are: restructure the lease to keep the offices at Oak Park Mall, move the offices to the Mower County Government Center or build a new energy efficient building on the Robbins Block.

According to the report, it would cost $4.3 to $6.3 million dollars to remodel the government center to move in health and human services. A roughly 23,000 square foot building on the Robbins Block would cost $5.4 to $8 million, report states. Oscarson said it costs the county about $115,000 a year to have their offices at the mall.

“We’re not going to start building tomorrow or remodeling tomorrow — whatever we do — but I think the public deserves to know what their elected officials intend to do with those departments,” Oscarson said. “And they also deserve to know what the board will do with (the government center) because a lot of this building will be vacant this fall.”

The costs outlined in the report may not be entirely accurate. The report is dated Aug. 12 of 2008, and the numbers are estimates based on industry averages. The potential projects haven’t been discussed yet because of the county’s focus on the new jail. The project was then postponed by the death of Commissioner Dave Tollefson, Oscarson said. Knutson Construction has indicated they would perform another cost estimate for the county, which would be closer to the final costs, according to Oscarson.

As for the future of health and human services, each option has its pros and cons. While staying at the mall may prevent the costs of construction, Oscarson noted that the utilities and maintenance costs are high at the mall. Plus, the mall is behind on its property taxes. Remodeling the government center is cheaper than a new building, but Oscarson said a new building may be more cost effective in the long run because of energy efficiency.

Oscarson said he and the county board will begin compiling a list of pros and cons for each option. Once a full list is compiled, Oscarson said the board can begin eliminating options.

No action will be taken at the meeting. After Wednesday, the county and city officials can decide how often they’ll meet to keep the planning going.

If a remodeling or building project is in the future, the city and county will then need to decide when to start construction.

While the LEC remodeling and the future of health and human services are separate projects, they are interconnected because both could potentially affect the space in the government center.

Since the project is being paid for jointly, both the city council and county board will have to approve the remodels to the LEC.