Mower County considers options for Human Services Department

Published 7:07 am Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Though a decision is still months away, early discussions suggest that a new building project is likely not the county’s top option.

As the county board considers where to house the Health and Human Services Department, remodeling the government center may be the most likely solution. More likely, at any rate, than a new building on the “Robbins block,” Commissioner Ray Tucker believes.

“It’s just too cost prohibitive,” Tucker said of a new building. “We need to utilize the space we have.”

It’s more probable, Tucker said, the board will opt to move the offices for Health and Human Services into the county Government Center once the openeing of the new jail and justice center leaves space vacant in the county’s current administrative building.

Likewise, County Coordinator Craig Oscarson said it appears unlikely the board would select to build new unless it turns out to be a cheaper option than remodeling. For example, repairing outdated plumbing could increase government center remodeling costs.

In a report prepared two years ago, KKE Architects Inc. estimated it would cost from $4.3 million to $6.3 million to remodel the government center. A roughly 23,000 square foot building on the Robbins Block would between $5.4 million and $8 million, the report said.

However, the study may be outdated, and Tucker noted the board will likely seek a new estimate of the costs. If a new report revealed a more extensive remodel would be needed, Oscarson said, a building project may be the best answer.

However, Commissioner Dave Hillier, who is on the building committee with Tucker, said the discussion is still in the early stages.

“We’ve got an awful lot to talk about yet,” Hillier said.“We want to make the right decision.”

Hillier noted the county has about three-and-a-half years left on its lease at the mall, and staying there is an option.

Oscarson said a choice between remodeling the government center and leasing at the mall boils down to whether or not the board wants to focus on a long-term or short-term option.

“The logical long-term option is to remodel,” Oscarson said. “The logical short-term option is leasing.”

The board has not had much discussions about the project since a meeting on June 6. Hillier said he wants to be thorough before choosing an option.

“I’m not in a hurry to make a decision,” he said.

Hillier noted the county’s building committee will likely meet sometime in July. The building committee may also meet soon with city officials to discuss the potential remodeling of the law enforcement center.