A fixture in the city since 1929, the Ward County Courthouse remains largely unchanged by the ages. Inside, however, the building has been making a steady march - one that has landed it squarely in the 21st century.
Hired two years ago, Jason Blowers, the county's information technology administrator, has overseen several major projects that have him quite busy.
The Ward County Board of Commissioners hired Blowers in January 2010 after years of debate over the county's IT goals.
Dave Caldwell/MDN • Jason Blowers, left, Ward County’s information technology administrator, has been an extremely busy man for the past two years. Along with Thomas Vera, tech support specialist, Blowers has seen several major projects completed in the county courthouse, while also responding to the county’s day-to-day tech-related needs.
Prior to Blowers being brought on board, the county contracted with NRG Professional Services to provide technical support.
The journey into the future has been one that has evolved, as have the demands of Blowers' position.
"There was a vision by the commissioners move back to their own IT staff," Blowers said Thursday. "Part of that was to take a look at all the hardware, do some inventory, do some updates and provide the support right here - to bring it back in-house."
Prairie Profile is a weekly feature profiling interesting people in our region. We welcome suggestions from our readers. Call Regional Editor Eloise Ogden at 857-1944 or Managing Editor Kent Olson at 857-1939. Either can be reached at 1-800-735-3229. You also can send e-mail suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
However, Blowers said that quickly evolved into managing all the computers, the Web, the phone system, the cabling, the network switches and printers.
Thomas Vera, the county's tech support specialist, has been on board for a year as of this coming Friday.
Asked by Blowers if anything was being forgotten in his list, Vera quickly added, "Scanners, copiers."
For people who love all things computer-related, though, that's hardly all bad.
"It's a lot of fun - you get to touch everything," Blowers chuckled. "There aren't too many environments where you get to touch everything. Usually it's segregated out.
"It's a dream job, actually, from that standpoint."
Prior to county employ, Blowers worked for IBM, Reliastar and ING as those companies' structures evolved.
"Basically, three different jobs, but all the same job in the same building," he said.
Vera served more than a dozen years combined in the Army and Air Force as a computer operator, a job that enabled him to "touch pretty much anything related to communications."
"Pretty much anything that was associated with a computer, I was involved in," Vera said.
Working for the county has been an adjustment, Vera said, albeit a pleasant one.
"It's definitely different than the military, where they're all leading-edge technology," he said. "But it's nice to be part of bringing Ward County into the 21st century with brand new infrastructure."
In fact, much of the newer implementations Blowers and Vera are working on are quite cutting-edge, including the new phone system.
Blowers said the "final push" to the new systems is going to be the conversion of all the county's systems currently running the Windows XP operating system to Windows 7 systems before Microsoft stops supporting XP, which is currently scheduled for 2014.
In addition, the courthouse has been almost completely rewired, with new network and phone switches.
In the days and months to come, Blowers said the issue of network infrastructure at the county social services department will have to be address, although that's a somewhat tricky situation at this point.
There has been longstanding discussion about the relocation of that department from its current home at the River of Life Church building on 22nd Avenue Northwest.
"That could change depending on where they're physically located," Blowers said. "We'll also have to take a look at the infrastructure of the jail. When that will be, I don't know. I know it's not on the slate for this year."
Vera said that during the rewiring process at the courthouse, they were also "planning forward" by including several termination points where connections can easily be made to run cabling to a new county building next door, should a new one ever be built.
"One of our goals this year is to revamp the county's website (www.wardnd.com)," Blowers said. "We're trying to get a new face for the county, because we need that."