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County gathers data on cost of human services building

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A space study indicates St. Croix County's Health and Human Services building in New Richmond is bigger than needed and utility costs are over three times higher than they would be for a new building.

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The study also shows it costs the county nearly $50,000 a year to have the department's staff based in New Richmond rather than Hudson, which hosts courts and other county services.

Following that report, the county's Finance Committee authorized $4,000 for Ayres Associates to prepare drawings for an addition to the Government Center in Hudson and a new Health and Human Services Department building that could be built anywhere in the county.

The results of the second study are expected later this summer.

"It can feel like we are heading toward a new building," admitted Administrative Coordinator Chuck Whiting. "But we still have a lot of steps to take before we get there."

The studies, said Whiting, are offshoots of two building space discussions: one about which department should be allowed to use empty rooms in the Government Center and one about the functionality of the Health and Human Services building.

The preliminary Ayres study reviewed Government Center floor plans and department needs including adding HHS offices to the Government Center, two more courtrooms, basement, a secure corridor in the existing basement and a secure elevator to move prisoners from the jail to the new courtrooms.

Those initial costs indicate such a project would cost $8.9 million to $10.9 million. Brown also estimated it would cost $4.9 million to remodel the existing human services building.

Whiting said it would take "a couple years of discussion" before the county could make a decision.

The question being considered is, "If you had to invest in a new building and run it, how would that compare to what we have now?" said Whiting.

The existing building is "fairly inefficient for its current function," said Health and Human Services Director Fred Johnson. "It's a building that the county had, and we moved in."

The building, located adjacent to the county's nursing home, was built as an alcohol and drug abuse treatment center.

The structure has a lot of outside walls and wasn't intended primarily for offices, said Johnson. "It's not a real good fit."

There are also moisture problems with the brick walls, difficulties maintaining enclosed courtyards and a lot of hallway space, said Whiting.

The building occupies 62,000 square feet, and Bob Brown of Ayres figured the department needs just 30,000 to 35,000 square feet now. He said that even accounting for growth, the department would only need 45,000 square feet 10 years from now.

Currently utility costs are running $168,000 a year. Brown figures utility expenses for a new facility built for current needs would be about $45,000 per year. Costs for a 45,000-square-foot building are estimated at $67,500 annually.

The expense of travel and employee time adds another $48,700 to the cost of having the building in New Richmond, reported Brown.

Johnson said social workers based in New Richmond frequently travel to Hudson for court hearings and building services managers must drive from Hudson to the New Richmond building.

The county is in negotiations with hopes of selling its nursing home. Original requests for proposals indicated the county would consider also selling the Health and Human Services building, but neither Whiting nor Johnson would comment on the likelihood of that happening.

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