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County looks to renovate Citizens Building

Goodhue County Board agreed to move forward Tuesday with plans to overhaul the aging Citizens Building, setting aside options for either a new building or turning it over to the Goodhue County Historical Society.

Commissioner Jim Bryant said during a Committee of the Whole discussion that he would not support spending money to construct a new facility while continuing to maintain the Citizens Building.

“Either we find somebody who wants to buy that building or look at rehabbing it,” he said.

Renovations are estimated at $4.38 million, including moving costs, furniture and improvements to the nearby Government Center, according to a staff report.

However, that figure does not include the cost of an expansion to the building, which Board Chair Dan Rechtzigel said would be necessary to meet the county’s office space need of around 40,000 square feet.

Without an add-on, the renovated Citizens Building only would provide 18,000 gross square feet of space, the staff report states.

Commissioner Richard Samuelson suggested that a new building — built on the site of the soon-to-be-demolished Public Health Building — would provide enough space at a similar cost to the renovations.

A proposed $7.7 million building connected to the Government Center would add 44,000 gross square feet of space, according to a staff presentation June 18.

Samuelson also said that he believes buyers would be more interested in purchasing the Citizens Building if the county decided to build a new facility. “People are waiting for County Board to make up their minds.”

Rechtzigel said he thought that as well, but changed his opinion after the county solicited proposals for the Citizens Building. “I was pretty underwhelmed by the response we got,” he said.

Should the county go with a new facility and let the Citizens Building sit empty, “the public is going to ask, and rightfully so, why we didn’t use the building we already have,” Rechtzigel said.

“We’re not finding anybody who wants to buy it or move in regardless of what we offer,” Commissioner Ted Seifert said.

He added that renovating the Citizens Building and keeping the Public Health Building site undeveloped would give County Board options for future building projects.

The four-level Citizens Building, located off West Avenue across from Central Park, houses the county’s mental health, welfare, child support and social services departments.

The county will continue to study the details of a renovation and addition project, including where to move Citizens Building staff during construction.

History Center plan stalls

County Board previously discussed working with the Goodhue County Historical Society and city of Red Wing to relocate the History Center to the Citizens Building, but a perceived lack of interest lead commissioners to abandon the idea Tuesday.

The county sent a letter to the Historical Society Board Sept. 18 asking for commitment to a relocation project.

The Historical Society replied in a letter the following week that it would not be interested in the move unless the county first guaranteed the availability of the Citizens Building by approving the construction of a new facility.

The letter further lists eight conditions for such a move, including yearly financial support from the county to help cover operating costs.

“I really didn’t sense a whole lot of excitement,” Rechtzigel said.

“I think they want to go in a different direction,” said Commissioner Ron Allen, who also sits on the Historical Society Board.

The cost to relocate the History Center from its current building on Oak Street — which is owned by the city of Red Wing — would be around $13 million, according to a feasibility study presented Sept. 5.

The county further met with state lawmakers, who agreed some of the project could be funded through state bonding dollars and Legacy Fund grants.

But Allen said that the high costs would be a risk even with state funding. “There are just too many variables right now.”

Rechtzigel said he was disappointed that a partnership could not be reached.

“I do think it’s a very huge missed opportunity,” he said. “And I think 20 years from now people are going to look back and recognize that.”

Michael Brun

Michael Brun joined RiverTown Multimedia at the Red Wing Republican Eagle in March 2013, covering county government, health and local events.  He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls journalism program.

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