A rough idea for the future: New county office building designs unveiled, options for jail expansion reviewed

At a meeting between the Citizen’s Committee and Ward County Commissioners, JLG Architects, of Minot, unveiled new designs for the upcoming Ward County Office Building and the expansion of the Ward County Jail.

“It looks like it belongs together, and that’s certainly something I like about it,” Don Davison, the architect behind the project, said about the new design. “It’s certainly a little different than the original. I think it’s an improvement. Looking back at the other concept, it seemed to me like it was kind of a ’60s-ish style and maybe a little too busy and this just seems to be a little less busy.”

The exterior of the building matches that of the courthouse but includes a slick-looking glass-walled entryway. The design allows for future vertical expansion for one extra floor should it be needed later.

“I think we can do that very discreetly,” said Jeff Steiner, another architect with JLG, answering a question by a Citizen’s Committee member about the ability to add an additional floor while maintaining the look of the building and how well it goes with the courthouse. “Because the grade drops off we’re a little lower than the existing building … it could accommodate another floor. It doesn’t have to, but it could.”

Commissioner Shelly Weppler made sure that if the county commission approved the firm to move forward with the design, onto the bidding for construction as well as any other “behind-the-scenes” duties the firm will have to go through, they would later be able to modify it regarding whether they will want a fourth floor or not.

Approximately two-thirds of the available space in the new facility will go toward space for Ward County Social Services, but the building is also projected to house Veterans Services, Emergency Management, the Treasurer/Auditors office, and the County Assessor’s office among some other departments.

There was much discussion, although primarily speculative at this stage, on the actual functioning of the building and in which areas different offices and departments will be found.

There was significant discussion about the idea of moving the Ward County Library, including its Bookmobile, into the new building partly in order to gain the space currently occupied by the library, which is near the site of the current jail and beside The Minot Daily News building.

“I’ve been very amazed at the number of people who use that facility,” said Weppler on the county library usage and how she would like to see it to continue to be available in a convenient place.

“There was so much uncertainty over the county library’s future that the decision was made not to include this in this building. There are options being discussed, and I’m not saying that this isn’t a good option, but I think we need to, first and foremost, take a look at the building itself and what it’s going to cost,” said commission chairman Jack Nybakken, summarizing the discussion over the library. “If we can put in the library and it’s a reasonable … trade-off in what it would cost as opposed to purchasing additional property then that’s logical but we’ll have to move fast on that.”

There were multiple jail expansion options. Option Three, which will provide a total of 56 new cells at 28 cells per floor with room for expanding into another 56 cells, is the option both the Sheriff’s Office and the commissioners are leaning toward. The option would actually be under the budget allotted for that project not including utility, road repair expenses, or property acquisition that may be incurred because of the larger footprint of the option. The design also allows the most room for future expansion or changes.

“I don’t think anyone has a crystal ball on what that jail capacity needs to be,” Davison said before running through the jail expansion options. “We just have to have the ability to expand it in its current form.”

JLG is splitting the commission on the jail expansion with BWBR Architects of St. Paul, Minn., a firm that specializes in designing detention facilities. Davison said that BWBR will handle the majority of the design stage for the jail, then the contracting and planning stage will be split between the two firms, and then JLG will take over during the construction stage.

Capt. Bob Barnard of the Sheriff’s Department said that the design of option three would also save significant money on staffing due to a tiered layout which will allow them to do twice as much with half the people, he said.

A problem with option three is that it has the largest footprint of all the options, which would spill into land that is not owned by the county for the project. So, although option three is the best option in terms of things wanted by the expansion and that it is “well within the budget,” the cost of new property acquisition is unknown.

A major concern right now is over where people will park. The current lot across from the courthouse will be maintained, but more parking will be needed. There have been discussions between commissioners and The Minot Daily News and other area business that own lots around the courthouse for acquiring or leasing, but there is still a lot of time left over to finalize the parking issue.

Davison reports that the entire project is within budget at this time. The budget for the project was $15.3 million and JLG now estimates the project at $14.9 million.

“We have one person on staff and that’s all they do: estimate,” he said about the accuracy of their projections.

The next meeting to discuss the progress of the plans is scheduled to be held in the Ward County Commissioner’s Chambers on the second floor of the Ward County Courthouse in Minot at 9 a.m. on Feb. 4.