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The Mille Lacs County Board reviews a preliminary plan by Vetter Johnson Architects for a proposed new public works building in Pease.

The conceptual design process has been started to complete a feasibility study that began back in 2014 for a new Mille Lacs County public works facility. 

The Mille Lacs County board is weighing options, including building onsite or a facility at potential offsite locations; an offsite location in the Pease area located along Highway 169 and County Road 8 was brought to the County Board as an example per their request from an earlier meeting.

No offsite location is being seriously considered.

The preliminary plan for the new facility was presented during a work session last Tuesday, July 2 by Pete Filippi, representing CGI (Contegrity Group, a construction management group), and Steve Johnson, principal architect for Vetter Johnson Architects out of Plymouth.

The preliminary site concept plan included 7,800 sq. ft. of office space, 26,800 sq. ft. of vehicle storage, 8,600 sq. ft. for vehicle maintenance, and an additional 5,400 sq. ft. salt shed, with a preliminary price tag of $10.4 million.

Discussion was also held about the possibility of renovating the existing public works building located in Milaca at a preliminary cost of $9.9 million.

County Administrator Pat Oman stated the Princeton and Milaca buildings would be sold.

Tellinghuisen questioned the need for vehicle maintenance since the fleet vehicles are maintained by Enterprise.

“Isn’t that a little overkill?” he asked. “We’re kind of going down a different route, so we could eliminate that.”

Oman responded by saying that the county may not always have leased vehicles, and the maintenance bays needed to be available for other things.

Also questioned was the office space. Oman responded, “We are planning for the next 30 years for growth, and many of those cubicles address that.”

Holly Wilson, assistant county administrator/public works director, said the surveyor, construction manager, county engineer, public works director (if the county continues that model), and three engineering techs would be housed there.

She said there would be space for an assistant county engineer if one is hired in the future and that only five spaces would be unaccounted for and available for future growth.

Highway Maintenance Superintendent Kevin Schultz added, “It’s not overbuilt.”

Oman suggested different means of funding including a general obligation bond with a levy or a specific sales tax with a bond, which he said has been done in other counties.

“It all comes down to the fact that there’s less free money and more options of how you want to structure a bond,” he said.

Oman added bonds are typically 15 years but could be stretched to 25 years.

“We have a AA high credit rating, so interest rates on recent ditch bonds / capital equipment / road bonds were 2-3%. But over the next year is the time to look at bonding if we’re going to do the project.”

He said they also have a low debt capacity due to the fact that the county hasn’t put a lot [of funding] into buildings.

Tellinghuisen said he didn’t like the possibility of having several bonds.

“I’m not against having a new building by any means but would like to see a plan where we can just have one bond,” he said, questioning if there is a possibility to pay off existing bonds with the sale of the buildings.

Oman replied that the option may not be available to pay off the existing bonds.

County Commissioner Phil Peterson said, “I like this option. I don’t like the number but like what you’re doing.”

Oman said the cost of occupying and existing building which isn’t as energy efficient and has more maintenance issues needed to be factored into the decision.

A timeline of around six months or less from time of approval was estimated by Johnson.

“It’s clear that a good time to bid is just before Christmas or just after but no later than February (of 2020),” he said. “For construction next year, the estimate would have to be increased if the project is delayed.”

County Commissioner Dave Oslin said, “In an ideal world, a Christmastime bid would be good and to get going after that.”

County Commissioner Roger Tellinghuisen questioned if the total cost factored in the cost of transitioning between facilities, and Oman said that it did not.

T.A. LeBrun is the editor of the Mille Lacs Messenger and covers county government for the Union-Times. She can be reached at

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