Lightning protection essential to protect county courthouse

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Can you guess what space this is in the Swift County courthouse? It is the gutted area that once housed the north and south courtrooms, the hallway, and judge’s chambers.  All the walls are gone now and the ceiling is opened up. But this view will soon be gone as the renovation project installs new walls and a new ceiling.

Sussner Construction, the company doing the $3.573 million renovation work at the Swift County courthouse, has recommended that it not install the lightning protection system saving the county $31,815.

However, Jonathon Loose of Wold Architects & Engineers says the county should reject that recommendation. Wold has worked with the county board on the redesign of the courthouse interior to improve its energy efficiency, safety for employees of the courts, and for its functionality in serving county residents.

“We recommend rejecting that offer being it is a critical building of a historic nature, it is taller than most other buildings around, knowing there have been lightning strikes to the building and it is a wood framed roof and attic structure,” Loose told commissioners at their Nov. 7 meeting. “We think it is a small investment to channel those potential lightning strikes down to the ground and not affect the building,” he said.

The county could save close to $32,000 by accepting the removal of the lightning protection, but it is something that is put into all new buildings, Loose said. “And, with the opportunity to install it on a historic building that has value, we think it is good,” he said.

A lightning strike not too many years ago caused serious and costly damage at the adjacent Swift County Law Enforcement Center.

“About six years ago there was a lightning strike at the courthouse,” Sheriff John Holtz said. “It hit in the northwest corner of the courthouse and came across the water pipes into the law enforcement side. Part of it went to the fire alarm system and the other part came out on my old dispatch consul and shut down my entire camera system right next to the dispatcher. That alone, I think, cost us over $30,000 to fix.” There was other damage as well, he added.

“Why would they suggest we not have it in there?” Commissioner Gary Hendrickx, District 1-Appleton, asked of Loose.

“One, it might be a nuisance for them to do it,” Loose said. “They don’t have any other work on the roof necessarily. Also, contractors in the public bid realm often think the budgets are pretty tight and there might not be enough contingency (funds.)

“With some owners the very first thing they do once a contract is awarded is ask, ‘What can you save money on?’ So it was very early in the project that they came forward with that one. They maybe thought that was an easy scope of work to remove in case the county was tight on the budget,” he said.

It wasn’t based on anything other than it was an avenue to reduce costs, right? Hendrickx asked. “Right,” Loose replied.

“What does it consist of?” Commission Chair Eric Rudningen, District 5-Kerkhoven, asked Loose. “Most people who read the newspaper think about what is on my old granary at my parents place, which is two stickers and a piece of glass on each one, and a cable that connects to the ground. That is not $31,000, obviously.”

It is rods sticking up at the highest points on the courthouse roof with bonded cables connecting them and running into copper rods that are sunk into the ground, Loose said. It also grounds the power distribution system for the courthouse. Surge suppression wouldn’t directly be part of the system.

The lightning protection was included in the original scope of work the county board already approved, Rudningen pointed out. If the board wanted it removed, then it would act to do it, otherwise it stays in the scope of work, he said.

None of the commissioners spoke in favor of removing the lightning protection from the bid....

 

Courthouse renovation

The current renovation project underway at the courthouse started with the need to replace the aged and inefficient boiler heating system. As that work takes place, the courthouse ducting system is also being upgraded.

While the boiler and ventilation work is taking place, offices on the courthouse main floor will be realigned to place the assessors office with the land records office on the north side of the hall while the auditor’s and treasurer’s offices stay on the south side.

The administrator’s office along with an expanded human resources office will be constructed. A new elevator is being installed at the front of the building for public use.

The electrical system and hot water heating systems for offices and bathrooms are being replaced. Restrooms will also be upgraded.

Carpeting, ceilings and windows will be replaced or upgraded.

As it oversees the courthouse project, Wold Architects & Engineers told commissioners it would respect the historic nature of the building. The courthouse was built in 1898 and is on the National Register of Historic Buildings....

 

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Pictured: Can you guess what space this is in the Swift County courthouse? It is the gutted area that once housed the north and south courtrooms, the hallway, and judge’s chambers.  All the walls are gone now and the ceiling is opened up. But this view will soon be gone as the renovation project installs new walls and a new ceiling.

 

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