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Changes coming to Pierce County courthouse lawn

ELLSWORTH -- The front lawn of the Pierce County Courthouse is going to undergo a renovation.

That seems to be about the only certainty at this point, as it was announced during a county building committee meeting last week.

Seven residents came to the meeting looking for information such as how much, when and how long. Those answers are unresolved, but the why was answered by committee member Ken Snow, who listed multiple factors.

The retaining wall and sidewalk around the front of the building are in serious need of repair and have been on the committee's "to-do" list for some time.

"They are an accident waiting to happen," he said.

In addition, there are plans for a new veterans memorial.

Administrative Coordinator JoAnn Miller said it was found to be cheaper to grade it out and slope the lawn down rather than install a new retaining wall.

As a result, the move affects what drew the residents to the meeting -- the status of two large oak trees.

Snow explained the committee has had experts, including from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, say that due to the trees' location, half of the room needed for the roots to grow and nourish has been taken up by the sidewalk and street. Throw in the veterans memorial, and the half shrinks further.

Any disturbance on the lawns will result in the trees becoming more stressed, which spearheaded the talk of removal.

A liability concern, the committee said, is the hanging branches over Main Street. What would happen if a storm knocks over one of the limbs while someone is walking on the sidewalk or driving by?

Residents Jack Hines and LaVern Kusilek asked the committee if there will be a public hearing before a final decision is made.

But Scott Bjork said he and fellow committee members reached a verdict about the trees: They have to go.

To try to soothe those in attendance, members said removal hasn't been taken lightly.

"We have been talking about those trees the six years I've been on this committee," Snow said.

"This decision wasn't made overnight," Chairman Dan Reis said. "We are acting on the best resources given to us."

@Sub heads:Veterans memorial

@Normal1: Plans for a new veterans memorial also is in the works.

Veterans Service Officer David Till said he was asked if it could be redone, but those plans were scrapped after he was deployed to Iraq in 2009.

Now it's getting closer to reality, Till said, as a committee of Dick DeCosta, Donna Swenson, Mike Farrell and Milt Helmer have been studying options.

"We haven't finalized anything yet," Till said. "We are still trying to come up with something."

The only certainty, Till concluded, is a new memorial will be in conjunction with the front lawn project.

In other building news, Miller said the Courthouse bathrooms, which have been undergoing renovations to become handicap accessible, should be completed by Aug. 1.