Parking, space: Committee still looking for place to park, facilities

Parking concerns were at the forefront of the Ward County Board of Commissioners’ agenda on Thursday as it pondered where to put heavy construction equipment as well as employee parking next summer once construction begins on a courthouse expansion.

“We’re going to start building and we don’t have any place to put the staging equipment,” said Commissioner Shelly Weppler.

Voters approved a 1/2 cent county sales tax last year that will fund a jail expansion, a new county office building, expansion of juvenile detention services, remodeling of the sheriff’s office and expansion for court facilities in the county. Work is set to begin in June.

At a meeting of the building space needs committee, commissioners discussed potential options for the staging area. They have had ongoing discussions with neighboring property owners Morgan Printing, The Minot Daily News and CP Rail, all of which own nearby parking lots.

Ward County Sheriff Steve Kukowski said he has talked with a representative of CP Rail in Minneapolis who said the railroad would not be interested in selling its nearby parking lot but might consider a lease agreement. Annual leasing costs might be $15,000 per year, plus about $3,000 in taxes. The committee members voted unanimously to direct Kukowski to continue talks and will ask Ward County State’s Attorney Roza Larson to draw up a proposal and meet with CP Rail officials. The commission expressed a preference for a three-year lease with the option of renewing the lease for up to two years, but said Larson, who wasn’t at the meeting, will need to look at the proposal and might have a different recommendation.

Other businesses downtown have expressed interest in acquiring the parking lot, so they decided time was of the essence.

Committee members also said talks should continue with The Minot Daily News and Morgan Printing about the possibility of purchasing or leasing those parking lots.

Also at the meeting, the committee discussed the possibility of relocating juvenile detention services to the basement of the Ward County Courthouse. Kukowski has a $200,000 grant to expand juvenile detention that must be used within two years. Architect Don Davison, of JLG Associates, said that project would likely be bid as a separate small project. Davison said he did not have a cost estimate for the juvenile detention project at this time. Kukowski said the jail is overcrowded and relocating juvenile detention services would free up eight beds at the jail.

Davison is also working on completing final architectural plans for the larger project. He and his colleagues have met with different departments to discuss space needs. Both Davison and commissioners have received letters from the North Dakota Historical Society about the upcoming courthouse expansion. Because the Ward County Courthouse is a historic building, Davison said the State Historical Society will be consulted about the project and also the proposed juvenile detention relocation to the courthouse basement. Davison said architects will make every effort to preserve valuable historic architectural features at the courthouse.

The committee also heard proposals from two developers on possible funding options for the project. One alternative to financing the project through bonds would be a building lease back process. Funds would be provided up front for construction, the building would be leased back to the county and the county would then begin paying back the funds once construction is completed.

Weppler said there are several groups interested in providing funds. Interested parties will likely be asked to submit their proposals and undergo a bidding process.

The next meeting of the building needs committee has been scheduled for 9 a.m. Feb. 14 in the Ward County Courthouse.