New Houston County Highway Shop

This artist's rendition of the new county highway facility shows the size of the building, which will house administrative offices, vehicle repair bays, parts department, heated vehicle storage, cold storage, storage mezzanine, crew accommodations and a truck wash.

By Craig Moorhead

The Caledonia Argus

Houston County commissioners took a major step toward building a new $5 to $6 million dollar highway department facility during their May 26 meeting. 

That’s when the board voted to approve and release an RFP (request for proposal) to hire a construction manager to oversee the construction of the new installation. The RFP also sets the parameters of the project, based on a plan developed by committee members and Barrientos Design & Consulting (Milwaukee). 

That “scope package” of planning documents are specific and detailed, but do not necessarily lock in place everything which the final blueprints would include, such as what kind of materials will adorn the exterior of the structure. 

That would be left to the winner of the RFP contract (the construction manager) to submit, and the county board to approve. The RFP calls for the construction manager to advise the board during the final design phase, then take on a leadership role during bidding and construction. 

The eventual plan that the construction manager completes for bidders is also expected to meet the budget set by the county.

The site of the highway headquarters will remain on East Washington Street in Caledonia, near the Houston County Fairgrounds. 

The plan calls for the demolition of the existing highway headquarters/shop building, as well as the rock building, radio tower, cold storage shed and another shed near the west side of the recently-expanded site. The Houston County Sheriff’s Office impound shed would be moved. 

According to the plans, the new building will cover approximately 38,600 square feet and includes administrative offices, vehicle repair bays, a parts department, heated vehicle storage, cold storage, a “storage mezzanine,” crew accommodations, and a truck wash. 

The rest of the site will house a fueling center, salt, brine, sand, and rock storage, bins to store various other items, future stockpile areas, the relocated impound building and more, including an 18,000 square foot retention pond. Screened fencing will enclose most of the area.

“As far as the design, ultimately it’s the cost that they come with (which will decide),” Commissioner Bob Burns said. Colleagues agreed. 

Currently, the timetable calls for the board to select a construction manager in mid-July. Bidding could start in November 2020, with construction getting underway as early as February 2021. 

Other news:

County Administrator Jeff Babinski reported county offices have reopened on an appointment-only basis, from noon through 4 p.m. “We highly encourage the use of masks,” he told the board. 

Driver’ s licenses will be available, but no driving tests or passports are being offered locally at this time.

The board approved a search for a pair of 67-day temporary employees. One will provide “additional sanitation efforts due to the COVID-19 health emergency,” and the other will offer “additional support to Driver License Services” during the emergency. Babinski said the cost of the hires may qualify for federal reimbursements.

On a related note, commissioners approved a federal CARES Act grant agreement which will provide $20,000 for maintenance/operations at the Houston County Airport. The restrooms at the facility will remain open, with some additional sanitation.

Low-bidder Sir Lines-A-Lot (Edina) won the 2020 pavement marking contract with Houston County, submitting a bid of $116,277. That’s 26% under the estimate for the job, County Engineer Brian Pogodzinski reported.

The board also approved several property tax abatements. But two of those were withheld for future study/consideration at the request of county assessor Cindy Cresswell Hatleli, who said there were some problems with the applications.

At the request of new member Greg Myhre, the board looked into charging residents who live along gravel county roads for chloride dust control treatments. 

If approved, those charges would not go into effect until 2021. A public hearing this summer on county fees will include the matter. That session is likely to be scheduled for sometime in August.

Public Health and Human Services Director John Pugleasa said, “There’s really not a lot of new developments” with the COVID-19 pandemic locally. 

At the time of the meeting, Houston County still only had two lab-confirmed cases of the disease, but residents should remain vigilant, he said. “I think the bottom line is we need to  continue to approach this not as a political issue, but as a public health issue,” he added. 

“Public health has to do with the broad population, and we’re trying to do our best locally. I think the state is doing their best, and the CDC is doing heir best to mitigate the risk to the population. But we don’t have perfect knowledge...” 

Social distancing, which health experts continue to recommend, appears to be taking place locally, several commissioners noted.

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