Thursday, March 22, 2018

Stillwater County Commissioner Mark Crago.

New face, new idea

Crago pitches solution covering offices, library, new fairgrounds

A handful of years into the process of trying to figure out the best solution to cramped county office space, a new possible option has been put forth.
In a nutshell, it involves moving the current fairgrounds, building a new structure on that site, remodeling the current courthouse, swapping the old hospital for 30 acres of land currently owned by the Columbus School District and the construction of a new library — all for an estimated $22 million.
The plan was presented by newly elected Stillwater County Commissioner Mark Crago to his co-workers Tuesday afternoon.
Crago acknowledged the “tremendous” amount of work that has already been poured into finding the best solution by the commissioners as well as Spectrum Group Architects, which developed several options as part of a feasibility study. However, Crago said he himself has also put a tremendous amount of work into his ideas, saying the situation troubled him before he decided to run for office.
The details are as follows:
•On the current fairgrounds site, construct a new county office building for an estimated $4 million, a new county library for an estimated $2.5 million and convert the Leuthold building to a facilities and county garage for an estimated $200,000.
•Regarding the old hospital, negotiate a deal with the Columbus School District to swap, trade or sell the building in exchange for 30 acres of land the school currently owns located near the Stillwater Billings Clinic.
•On the 30-acre site, build a new fairgrounds to include a 4-H livestock building, a 4-H Expo building, grandstands, maintenance and concessions as well as RV hook-ups for an estimated $10 million.
•Remodel three of the four floors of the current courthouse for law and justice offices for an estimated $3.4 million.
•And finally, at the Granite Peak Sports Complex, build a park and recreation center with an indoor walking track, a multi-purpose floor for tennis courts, basketball, volleyball and fitness area for an estimated $2 million.
Crago, who is a contractor, came up with the figures from the following:
•The courthouse remodel would involve 17,000 square feet at $200 per foot (as was done in Missoula for that same rate).
•The county office space would involve 18,900 square feet at a rate of $200 per foot. Crago said the national average of a two to 3-story building with an overage allowance is $140 to $230 per square foot.  
•The Leuthold building estimate came from Crago’s experience “as that is a project I used to do on regular basis,” he said.
•The library would involve 10,000 square feet at $200 per foot plus an allow allowance for new and books furniture.
Crago also said the school is on board and interested in the old hospital. Regarding the total $22 million price tag, Crago said it doesn’t have to happen all at once and some of the cost can be covered with grant money.
“I would estimate a borrow amount of $14 million to $15 million,” said Crago.
Commissioner Dennis Shupak asked Crago about the “swampy” conditions in the 30-acre location, to which Crago said it could probably be remediated.
All three commissioners agreed that the current courthouse would stay and be used.
Commissioner Maureen Davey said she continues to hear the public express support to use the old hospital for county office space, although there has been virtually no public support for that on the record. There has been documented opposition to the plan by citizens and county department heads.
CTA Inc. has been asked to conduct a second space needs assessment and Davey said the county was also obtaining a second opinion from a structural engineer regarding the old hospital structure. The cost for that is estimated to be approximately $8,000.

In attendance at the meeting were Stillwater County Attorney Nancy Rohde, Treasurer Jerry Friend and citizens Jim Movius and Maurie Petterson. Davey began by referencing a meeting held the previous week with Spectrum in an effort to bring Crago up to speed on the work that has already been done and her unhappiness about a News article on that meeting.
Crago brought the focus to the present by saying he appreciated all the work done on the project but that he had “some other ideas” involving the old hospital and not using it for office space.
As Crago handed out a document outlining his proposal to those in attendance, Davey said “We do have other work to do.”
At one point Petterson asked if he could speak, to which Davey said no, explaining that the meeting was not “advertised.” Later, Movius appealed to Commissioner Chairman Shupak, asking to be given 10 minutes for public comment. After some discussion, Shupak asked Rohde, who said the meeting was in fact public and comment should be allowed.
Davey said she didn’t want to be in the newspaper saying the public wasn’t allowed to comment.