Building plans move forward

The majority of Wednesday morning’s special meeting of the Ward County Commissioners was focused on the parking problem that has plagued county building projects since the beginning.

Before parking became the discussion, though, some further refinements to the upcoming Ward County Office Building were discussed and deadlines were set for moving the project into the bidding stage.

Advertisement for bids on constructing the projects will begin on July 16 and will continue until the bids are opened and reviewed on Aug. 8.

Plans for the buildings, though, may change slightly even through the bidding stage as various county agencies revise their needs and submit their new requests. This long process of designing, receiving new requests, and then redesigning to meet these requests has slowed the project and led to confusion on what exactly is wanted and when exactly it is wanted, according to members of JLG Architects, which is designing the buildings.

A lot of that confusion and sputtering in the process, though, can be traced back to the parking conundrum. Until that is settled it will be difficult to come to final decisions for the building.

The Ward County Public Library has been at the center of a lot of the talks and has been the centerpiece for confusion for inclusion in the building. The commissioners have swayed back and forth between the opposing ideas of razing the current library next to The Minot Daily News and including it in the new building or keeping the library where it is.

That has led to the fourth floor debate, another area of contention among the architects and the commissioners. The fourth floor would be needed if the library moves in, because the library would most likely be on the bottom floor and would force and upward movement of other agencies within the building. The fourth floor addition, though, is estimated to be a $2.5 million change in scope of the project. At an earlier meeting it was decided to have the architects design for a shell of a fourth floor, which would include a topper and an extension of needed infrastructure into the empty space, but not a total build-out for space. The reason for this is because everything is still within the realm of possibility.

Commission chairman Jack Nybakken and commissioner Jerome Gruenberg have been in frequent talks with the leadership of The Minot Daily News, which is publisher Steve Herron and editor Bryan Obenchain over trading county spaces for the parking lot of the newspaper. The talks have been somewhat private and there was a certain level of frustration showing in commissioner Shelly Weppler over not knowing the full details of the talks, which was somewhat echoed by commissioner John Fjeldahl.

Nybakken and Gruenberg did announce Wednesday, though, that they are going to have Ward County State’s Attorney Roza Larson draft up a concrete offering to The Minot Daily News, which will include three options.

Option one, which is prefered by the county, is to swap right-of-ways outright along Third Avenue Southeast. The county would acquire the newspaper’s half of the street, which is between their parking lot and the Ward County Jail, the area needed to build the jail expansion, and would trade that for the county’s half of the street, which is behind the library and next to the dock of the newspaper. Nybakken said that the benefit for the newspaper would be that there would be access for backing trucks into the docks.

Option two is to purchase the northern part of the newspaper’s primary parking lot, which is largely unused by employees, who for the most part park closer to the building on the southern end. Monetary figures for the buy out were not disclosed but Nybakken described it as a “fairly significant amount,” based on fair-market value.

Option three is to trade off all three lots the newspaper owns for the lot the library is on, which the county has estimated would be enough space for about 42 parking spots. The buy would also be a “pretty significant amount” of money, and the county would also be responsible for the demolition of the library and paving the lot to be suitable for parking.

The Minot Daily News staff in Minot has fluctuated between about 77 and 85 people, with about 55 people parking within the lot at any given day. Due to the nature of the business, employees are in the building both day and night which encompasses news production, mailing and inserts, and pressroom activity.

“I calculated that after the new building comes in and so forth we would go from like 166 of our current available parking to 122 but we gained about 160 from the railroad so we’d up to about 282 spots and there would be 247 needed,” Nybakken said.

He based his final needs number on a parking study conducted by Sheriff’s Department Capt. Bob Barnard, which has broken down the needs for parking of various agencies, as well as estimated parking for a typical court day which could run the gamut of a major trial to a day of frequent social services visits. In total, he estimates the county would need 247 spots for a typical day.

He broke it down with 72 spots for social services employees, 48 spots for courthouse employees, eight spots for the jail, and 34 spots for district courts, which comes to 177 spots. For the estimated needs, which is based on counting and averaging over a number of days, 36 spots would be needed for jury pools, 14 for courthouse visitors and 20 for social services visitors.

The total parking currently available is 166 spaces, although The Minot Daily News came to a larger number in an independent survey, especially in regards to the West lot. The northwest quadrant of the lot is not even lined for spacing which would skew the availability of parking. The total number does not include the Canadian Pacific parking lot currently leased by the county on a yearly basis.

Weppler, however, spoke out that leasing it year to year gives no security for using the number within a total, because the availability may be pulled.

She also said that the library issue is “the biggest thing” holding up the project. The commissioners agreed, although Gruenberg took offense at what he felt was a slight toward the work Nybakken and he had put into negotiations with the newspaper.

Commissioner John Fjeldahl said that pretty soon the library was going to turn into a “dollars and cents” issue, where the stalling will rise costs. Gruenberg suggested that whether or not a deal can be reached with The Minot Daily News, the lot could be used for county parking, instead, if the library gets moved into the office building.

A man in the audience spoke up about a multi-level parking option, but the subject was quickly dismissed as being too expensive. Architect Don Davison suggested that the west lot would be the best option for a multi-level if it does come to that.