County takes next step in $4.5 million courthouse renovation

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Formal plans and specifications for a nearly $5 million renovation of the Swift County Courthouse and an upgrade of Countryside Public Health will be sought in anticipation of seeking bids later this spring.

County commissioners voted 4-1 at their Jan. 17 meeting to proceed with the projects, which will be paid for by general obligation bonds. Property owners in Swift County will pay the bonds off.

Commissioners Gary Hendrickx, District 1-Appleton, Pete Peterson, District 3-south Benson, Joe Fox, District 4-Hegbert Township, and Eric Rudningen, District 5-Kerkhoven, voted for the motion while Commissioner Ed Pederson, District 2-north Benson, voted against it citing concerns about the cost.


Countryside Public Health
Nearly $490,000 in work is needed at the five-county regional headquarters of Countryside Public Health in Benson for basic maintenance of the building.

The old storage shed/garage on the east side of the building is in poor condition and will be removed providing more parking space. The brick building will be tuck-pointed, have the roof repaired, have insulation added to the walls, have the electrical and HVAC systems upgraded, and have windows upgraded.

Further, with the major upgrades of the courthouse planned, the Safe Avenues program is being moved from the basement of the building to Countryside. Safe Avenues is a program for victims of sexual assault, sex trafficking, or domestic abuse. It provides shelter, counseling, and legal help to victims.


Major renovation of the courthouse started with the need to upgrade its aged and inefficient boiler heating system. When work begins to replace the boilers, it will also be necessary to replace and upgrade the ducting systems.

The current boilers will be replaced with a hot water boiler system that is nearly 95 percent efficient, Jonathon Loose of Wold Architects & Engineers told commissioners. Last October, the county hired Wold to do a detailed architectural and engineering study in preparation for starting construction. Wold was the low bidder for the work at $404,720.

With the new heating system courthouse staff will be able to control heating and cooling based on the floor and rooms they occupy. With the current system the temperature from the basement to the second floor can vary greatly.

It makes sense for long-range energy efficiency to time replacing the boilers with the installation of the new ventilation system, Loose said. It will be much more comfortable, and give 25 to 30 years of life for the system, he said. The new boilers will last closer to 40 years....

Court Security enhancement
On the courthouse’s second floor there are two courtrooms, the judge’s chambers, the court administrator’s office, meeting rooms for attorneys and clients, and a room for jurors to meet. As it is set up now, there is little separation between the public, prisoners brought up from the county jail, jurors, and court personnel.

That lack of separation is a major safety concern for court officials and law enforcement.

“In an ideal world, a court would have three zones, separating all those different pieces,” Loose said. But in a historic building with a limited ability to restructure things it ends up being very difficult to do that, he added...

Other renovations
The plan also calls for redesign in the courthouse basement that allows for expansion of the Swift County Housing and Redevelopment Authority (HRA) offices.

Work will take place on the fourth floor where the law library is today and in the attic space to make it more energy efficient.

In the LEC, upgrades are planned to enhance security for the 6W Corrections office, which handles probation services for the county.

Dislocating courthouse staff
It will be far more efficient and cost-effective for the work to take place all at once rather than one section at a time, Loose told commissioners. As a result, the county is going to have to find space for the staff to work out of for up to four months.

The court functions can be handled out of a neighboring courthouse with courtrooms, he said. Other county courthouse staff will have to find another building in the community out of which to work.

One building suggested was Lewis Drug downtown Benson that was recently vacated when the business moved into the new Do-Mat’s Family Foods building on west U.S. Highway 12. Other buildings are being considered as well.

“We are not looking for the golden gilded palace, we are looking for the best way to provide services to the residents of Swift County,” Rudningen said.

Hendrickx pointed out that the county board had voted unanimously back in September to approve going out for general obligation bonds to pay for the courthouse and Countryside renovations. He then moved the county move forward with the plan for the courthouse and Countryside Public Health. Fox seconded the motion.

While he supported the bonding vote in September, Pederson expressed concern about the spending being proposed.

There are certainly a lot of projects and ideas going around in the community, he said. The Swift County-Benson Health Service’s assisted living facility proposal, remodeling at hospital, Benson city hall remodeling, a new Benson police department, a community center, and that is without even touching the proposals for building work at the Benson schools, he said....

Human Services
Expanding the Human Services building to accommodate for the anticipated growth of four staff as well as take care of the current overcrowding in offices where staff is having to double up.

There is also a lack of secure interview rooms and concerns about staff security and safety, Loose said. However, this work was put on hold....


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Pictured: Enhanced security on the second floor of the Swift County Courthouse, where the courtrooms, judge’s chamber, and clerk of court are located are part of the reason for the multi-million dollar renovation of the buidling.

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