Although many pieces to the puzzle still remain to be played, the Ward County Commission received cost estimates for its long-delayed expansion project during a special meeting Tuesday morning.
Don Davison, an architect with JLG Architects, said the estimated cost for all the major parts of the expansion, including courthouse and jail renovations and a new office building that would include Ward County Library, would be in the neighborhood of $35.8 million after rounding the numbers.
Breaking things down piece by piece, Davison said the new office building without the library would be around 65,000 square feet in size. He estimated construction would cost around $235 per square foot, so the price tag would be about $15.3 million.
Putting the library in the office building would add about 8,000 to 10,000 square feet. Davison said the library currently has 6,800 square feet.
"So that gives them a little room to expand," Davison said. "That also allows the lower level to be used for loading and unloading."
Using the same square foot cost as the office building, Davison estimated an extra 10,000 square feet would cost an additional $2.4 million. With the library included, the office building would be around 75,000 square feet and cost $17.8 million.
The office building would take from 1 1/2 to 2 years to build.
Using plans that were drawn up six years ago, Davison estimated renovations to Ward County Courthouse would run about $3.5 million, which is up slightly from past estimates.
"That's a little bit more than what we looked at about a year or so ago," Davison said.
Although he didn't have a firm number in front of him when asked, Davison estimated the courthouse was about 60,000 square feet. Renovation work would cost from $125 to $150 per square foot, but not all of the courthouse can be remodeled because of historical factors.
He noted renovation work would probably not begin until the new office building was occupied.
Renovations to Ward County Jail would add 60 beds of prisoner capacity, bringing the total to 165. When asked if that additional capacity would be sufficient, Capt. Bob Barnard of the sheriff's department said while it was impossible to predict the future, based on projections the department had, 60 extra beds seemed reasonable.
The addition to the jail would add about 6,700 square feet per floor, and with four floors the total additional space would come to 26,800 square feet. Jails are more costly to build than a typical office building, and Davison said an expert he spoke with told him it would cost about $325 per square foot for the specially-reinforced construction. He estimated the cost of the jail addition at $10 million, plus another $500,000 or so for renovation work to the current administrative area.
"So I think $10 million to $11 million is my best guess for that expansion and renovation work," Davison said.
After hearing the $35.8 million estimate, commissioner Bruce Christianson said bundling the projects together might not be the best option because of outside funding options for various aspects of the project, including NAWS funds, that could save the county some money. Commissioner Carroll Erickson said although it's a big figure to look at, projections show Minot growing quite a bit, making the expansion even more critical to complete in a timely manner.
"The longer we wait, the more it's going to cost us," Erickson said. "And sooner or later we'll have to be moving prisoners to some other county or something, and that takes more manpower, under certain circumstances."
At the moment the consensus is to use a 1/2 cent sales tax to pay for the expansion. It is estimated collections from the tax would be $7.2 million per year.
"We would still have to bond, but it would be a tax revenue bond," said Devra Smestad, county auditor/treasurer.
She said it would take seven or eight years to pay off the tax revenue bond.
Other things that must be figured out include what kind of cap and sunset clause to put on the sales tax.
Commission chairman John Fjeldahl said the county also has to address road repairs and the dike project. He suggested raising $10 million for highway infrastructure funding in addition to the $35 million for the expansion project with the sales tax.
"I wonder if we shouldn't consider that," Fjeldahl said.
Any ballot measure for the 1/2 cent sales tax would have to be submitted by the end of August, and a number of questions remain.
Members of the commission planned to speak with The Minot Daily News Tuesday afternoon about the possibility of securing the newspaper's current parking lot for the new office building. One of the options would be for the county to give the newspaper the Ward County Library site as part of the exchange. Doing that would mean the new office building would also house the library. If the library wasn't given up in the exchange, it could stay at its current location and the cost of the office building would be cut by several million.
"Do we include the library or do we not include the library?" Smestad said. "Because those numbers change."
"I think if the library doesn't go in, that's contingency money," Davison said.
Moving an MDU gas substation is also something that needs to be done, and was estimated to cost around $200,000 a year ago.
The next special meeting on the expansion project was set for Tuesday, July 24 at 9 a.m., when hopefully more of those questions will be answered.