By LeAnn R. Ralph
MENOMONIE — The Dunn County Board has a big decision to make.
Should Dunn County move all of the offices from the old courthouse building on Wilson Avenue to the Community Services Building on Highway 12/29 and sell the courthouse building? Or should Dunn County offices remain downtown?
Either way — staying in the building on Wilson Avenue or moving to the site of the former Dunn County Health Care Center now known as the Dunn County Community Services Building — will cost the county about $4 million, said Paul Miller, county manager, at the Dunn County Board’s June 20 meeting.
The Dunn County Government Center on Wilson Avenue needs a new heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system at an estimated cost of $1.3 million, Miller said.
The building was originally constructed in 1960, and some of the original HVAC system is still in use, he noted.
The Government Center also must have a new elevator system installed. The existing elevator is not Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant, and the elevator is not large enough to accommodate a stretcher if someone requires transport because of a medical emergency, Miller said.
Upgrading the elevator, because of building codes, would also require the entire building to have a sprinkler system, which adds to the cost of remodeling, he said.
The plumbing in the government center as well as the roof also need to be replaced, he said.
“These issues have to be addressed if we are going to remain here,” Miller said, noting that the improvements and remodeling would be phased in over a two-year period.
As for the community services building, the entire second floor is vacant as well as one wing of the first floor. The estimated cost would be about the same — $3.8 million — to build offices for various county departments, Miller said.
According to information Miller provided to the county board, the community services building has 3,000 square feet available on the first floor and 39,100 square feet available on the second floor. Originally constructed in 1972, the community services building was completely remodeled in 2014 and 2015.
The Dunn County Government Center is 49,500 square feet, and the third floor is occupied by the City of Menomonie offices.
Issues to think about concerning whether Dunn County offices should move from downtown to the community services building go beyond the cost of moving or remodeling and include the county’s presence in the downtown area, Miller said.
Dunn County offices downtown bring people into the downtown area, which provides economic benefits to restaurants, hotels and retail businesses, he said.
Miller said he had spoken with Lowell Prange, city administrator, Randy Knaack, mayor of Menomonie, and several Menomonie city council members.
The city does not want to relocate to the community services building, he said.
If the county relocates to the community services building, the city could buy the government center or could be a tenant of the new owner of the building, he said.
Miller said when he spoke to Prange and Knaack, “they did not seem concerned about the county offices moving.”
Even with all of the repairs that are needed, they were not concerned and would still consider purchasing the building, he said.
Some efficiencies would result from moving to the community services building, Miller said.
The community services building would have less maintenance costs and lower costs for utilities. With county offices all located in the same building, the departments could share resources, personnel and equipment, and the travel time between the offices now located in the community services building and the government center would be eliminated, Miller said.
Moving to the community services building also would have an “aesthetic impact” because it would “solidify” the county’s campus on Highway 12/29, he said.
The Neighbors of Dunn County, the Dunn County Community Services Building, the Dunn County Judicial Center and the Dunn County Highway Department would all occupy a stretch along Highway 12/29, Miller said.
The Dunn County Board was not asked to make a decision at the June 20 meeting.
County board supervisors should think about the proposal and talk it over with their constituents, Miller said.
The item of whether to move or stay in the government center will be on the agenda for the county board’s July 25 meeting, he said.
Miller noted county board supervisors were probably thinking, “what’s the rush?”
Improvements to the government center have been put off pending the resolution of the question, he said.
If the county board decides the county offices should stay in the government center, then engineering will be needed right away for the HVAC system, Miller said.
County board supervisors should be prepared to give their opinion and to vote on the issue at the July 25 meeting, he said.
If Dunn County moves the remaining departments to the community services building, are there plans to sell the government center? asked Diane Morehouse, county board supervisor from Menomonie.
The fair market value of the Dunn County Government Center building is $660,000, and selling the building would help defray the cost of relocating, Miller said.
Larry Bjork, county board supervisor from Menomonie, said when he was a youngster, his grandfather lived two blocks away, and he could remember when the new courthouse, now the government center, was built.
“It was a fabulous building,” Bjork said, recalling even as a 10-year-old boy, he was in awe of the marble and the construction of the building.
Bjork also recalled when he was a “4-H kid,” he and his friends wanted to see how many people they could cram into the elevator, and the elevator became jammed between floors.
The elevator regularly breaks down now, and people have had to be rescued from it several times, Miller said.
“It is overdue to be replaced,” he said.
If the offices in the government center move to the community services building, will there be a loss of meeting space for current occupants of the building? asked Kitz Cleary, county board supervisor from Menomonie.
None of the departments currently in the community services building would lose any space if the remaining departments moved there, Miller said.
Carl Vandermeulen, county board supervisor from Menomonie, said since the county owns the land between the community services building and the judicial center, perhaps a road could be constructed between the two buildings.
The wooded hill between the two buildings would not be a very good place for a road, but bike and pedestrian paths would work there, Miller said.
A road between the two buildings would not generate enough a traffic to justify the cost of building a road, he said.