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Superintendent Mark Rollefson

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$35 million courthouse remodeling advances in Jefferson County

JEFFERSON — Although there have been updates that have been ongoing since 1991, it’s time again for major renovations — to the tune of a possible $35 million — to the Jefferson County Courthouse.

The facility dates to original construction in 1961.

Acknowledging this need, the Jefferson County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday voted 27-2 with Mike Kelly absent, to continue taking steps toward initiating the project. Many other hurdles need to be cleared before the full project can begin. The dissenting supervisors were Greg David of Watertown and John Kannard of Helenville.

Explaining his vote, David told his colleagues that the world, “is in a state of flux” and warned that, “there are big curves coming up.” He said the county should remain flexible for the foreseeable future and not commit to such a major project until more is known about how office work in society will eventually be performed.

Kannard agreed with David, saying that, “In five years, you might design a totally different building.”

Supervisor Richard Jones is chairman of the finance committee and said his panel believes that, with interest rates as favorable as they are, now is the time to undertake the renovations.

Supervisor Curtis Backlund voted in favor of the project, saying if the county were to do just the mechanical work needed, “you rip into the walls. And by doing this all at once, it’s done and you don’t displace workers twice. We’ve looked at all the space requirements … It makes sense to be ‘one and done.’ And I don’t see costs going down anytime soon.”

Walt Christensen of the board said that when he first saw the financial figures for the project, he was skeptical. I toured the buildings, and attended the buildings and grounds committee meetings, and I was relieved of my skepticism. The experts here have convinced me the scope is correct, and the need is there and I have to go with the (recommendations) of upper management, whom I trust.”

According to Jefferson County Administrator Ben Wehmeier, part of the initial efforts by the county toward the project will now be final selection processes of who will perform the work and gaining contract approval for these efforts. Wehmeier said these services may include construction management and design services, among other assistance.

“Upon these decisions being made, a more intense process for final design development would take place to develop building plans,” Wehmeier said.

Wehmeier said the estimated timeline at this point has final design and budgeting being in place in nine months, with bidding and contract approval occurring over the following two to three months. Construction phases would take place over the subsequent 24 to 28 months.

“So, if the county board provides approval in the coming months, work could potentially begin about a year from that approval. The estimated completion would be in 2024,” Wehmeier said, stressing that more approvals await before the project can begin. “It is anticipated that the additions being recommended would be done first to facilitate flex space for departments to locate to (other areas) while other space is being renovated.”

According to Wehmeier, the intent of the county, at this point, is to maintain an operational courthouse facility through the duration of the project.

Jefferson County Building and Grounds Committee Chairwoman Laura Payne said that, over the last several years, the county has continued to evaluate the condition of its facilities to ensure that its long-term operational needs are being addressed.

“This has included the courthouse, sheriff’s office, jail located at the south end of the courthouse complex, highway facilities and south campus operations primarily focused on health and human services operations,” she said, reading to the board an executive summary of the resolution generated by her committee and the office of Corporation Counsel Blair Ward. “During the evaluation process, it was determined that the courthouse facility is most in need of renovation and upgrades.”

The Jefferson County Courthouse was built in various phases starting in 1961, with substantial additions in 1966 and 1991.

“Today, much of the courthouse is original construction with original equipment,” Payne said. “As a result, there has been an increasing failure rate related to mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems. Most of these systems have significantly exceeded their life expectancy and are either continually in need of repair, or are likely to need repairs in the near future. Further, the courthouse does not meet current building codes, provide for basic life/safety measures, or Americans with Disabilities Act requirements.”

In reviewing how to address the future needs of the courthouse facility, a determination was made to review courthouse operations in addition to mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems.

“This includes life, safety and security needs, Information Technology needs, general operational needs, and compliance with current codes and regulations, such as the State Department of Corrections for the jail, Supreme Court Rules for the court system, Americans with Disabilities Act and various other applicable building codes,” Payne said.

In 2019, the county’s building and grounds committee interviewed consultants to evaluate the operational needs of the courthouse, and Potter Lawson and Partners was selected as the design team and approved by the county board.

“During 2020, Potter Lawson’s review of the courthouse facility consisted of reviewing mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems, and advising of code deficiencies, security and technology needs and necessary upgrades to meet the future demands of courthouse operations. This process included input from county staff and elected officials,” Payne said.

In October of 2020, after presentations to the building and grounds committee, a report was presented to the county board. This report included a mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems analysis and a new space configuration to include three primary additions to the courthouse facility (see accompanying story).

The total project cost at that time was estimated at $33 million, with $17 million of that cost going to replace the mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems.

Financing options were presented to the board and included discussion that interest was at historically low rates.

On Feb 19, at a joint meeting of the executive, finance, and building grounds committee it was determined it would be appropriate to continue to evaluate the courthouse facility renovation project, and also determined that additional design services were needed to finalize the scope of the project. This plan was approved by the county board on March 9.

After this county board action, Potter Lawson continued to review and further define the scope of the courthouse facility renovation project by reviewing space needs with staff, and conducting additional analysis of mechanical, plumbing and electrical plans to include updated cost estimates.

The results of these additional efforts were presented to the county board on May 11. This included an updated project cost estimate of approximately $35 million and that number stands today.

On June 2, the building and grounds committee recommended that the county proceed with the projects as developed by Potter Lawson and that was affirmed by the board on Tuesday night.

A portion of the resolution, itself, read, “The Jefferson County Board of Supervisors hereby approves the courthouse facility renovation project as presented, with funding for this project requiring additional action by the county board at a later date … . The county administrator is directed to start the next phase of design services, procure construction management services, procure owner’s representation services, and develop a more defined financial model for this project.”

A fiscal note attached to the resolution stated that, “Funds for the total project will be provided through current cash available and debt issued by the county over three years … At the time it becomes necessary to issue debt for this project, a three-quarters vote of the full board of supervisors will be required to authorize the debt issuance.”

TOP: Watertown Street Department employee Adam Quest soaks some newly seeded earth Wednesday morning along Utah Street. Quest said the tanker he drives for such duties hauls nearly 2,000 gallons of water. RIGHT: With a high reaching 92 degrees coupled with a low probability of rain, Quest soaks all areas where new grass seed was put down.

With a high temperature reaching 92 degrees Wednesday coupled with a low probability of rain, according to the National Weather Service, Watertown Street employee Adam Quest soaks all areas where new grass seed was put down.

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What would be in the renovated in the new courthouse?

JEFFERSON — It seems that the Jefferson County Board of Supervisors is being asked to look into a crystal ball as it tries to predict what county governmental offices will look like in the future.

Supervisors are facing many questions, such as how many additional people will be working for the county in 20 or more years, or even if all staff will need office space in the center of the county seat. The pandemic has taught society that it is possible for some jobs to be performed from home.

At this time in its decision-making process about possible courthouse expansion and renovation, basic, driving financial factors in the project are heating, ventilation, and air conditioning needs, as well as mechanical, electrical, plumbing and other infrastructure updates. These would make up approximately $17 million of the total $35 million project.

Tentative plans for a courthouse renovation have been quietly taking place for much of 2020 and the first half of 2021, with courthouse staff working with consultants, and the buildings and grounds and finance committees, on various concepts.

Supervisors have been receiving occasional presentations from Potter Lawson Inc. architects of Madison and Maas Brothers Construction of Watertown on options for updating the courthouse to make it more convenient for staff and the public, as well as safer and more secure. The building also needs upgrades to meet current fire protection, Americans with Disabilities Act and Department of Corrections standards.

Plans, as proposed by Potter Lawson, call for three additions to each corner of the courthouse, with the exception of the southeast corner, while keeping the main entrance where it is on the east side of the building, facing the parking lot.

As part of the three additions, as well as a new elevator on the west side of the building for use by county judges, the Management Information Systems facility, located across South Center Avenue from the courthouse, would occupy the proposed addition to the northwest corner of the current building. The existing MIS facility would be razed, and in its place, 37 parking spaces would be created.

Other areas of the courthouse’s floor plan would be streamlined, with departments with common services, such as administration, human resources and the corporation counsel relocated, so they would be grouped together on the same floor. Another consolidation mentioned by Potter Lawson would be a grouping of the treasurer, register of deeds and surveyor offices.

The clerk of courts office would be relocated from its current spot on the south end of the building’s first floor to the northwest, first floor portion of the facility — roughly where the current administrator’s office and former west side, main courthouse entrance are situated. This would make it one of the first offices a visitor would see upon entry to the courthouse. Planners deem that office to be one of the most frequently used by the public and therefore, want it to be prominently placed.

The county board room, in the northwest corner of the second floor, would remain where it is, with mobile walls installed, allowing it to be used as conference space when it is not serving, infrequently, as the venue for meetings of supervisors and jury selection. The podium of the large room, where the county board chairman and corporation counsel preside, would be relocated from its east position to the north end.

The emergency management department would be moved to the southwest corner of the first floor of the complex, to be closer to the sheriff’s department. This would also allow the office to have a south-facing door to the outside that would open to the public for easier access.

The plans include options for sheriff’s department and jail expansion, and increased efficiencies in those departments.

Planners said that, by 2030, it’s likely that the courthouse will need the additional 35,000 square feet of space that the proposed, full renovation project would provide. This would bring the complex to a total of approximately 150,000 square feet.

The county’s four court branches would remain on the south end of the complex, but one would be enlarged, per a state supreme court recommendation. This would allow it to function as a “ceremonial courtroom,” where larger trials and events, such as the swearing-in of judges, could be held.

According to Potter Lawson, there has been considerable collaboration and thought that has gone into the floor planning of the proposed renovated facility. It’s representatives said the staff of the county did a great job of collaborating with experts on the floor plan.

Jared Ramthun of Potter Lawson said much of the courthouse’s infrastructure dates to the 1960s, “So now is a good time to invest in some upgrades.”

Experts said if the county were to build an entirely new courthouse at a different location, that facility would cost an estimated $75 million.

If the project moves forward, planners said it would be done in phases over approximately 2.5 years. A goal would be to get the building enclosed before winter of 2021-22. Jefferson County Administrator Ben Wehmeier said another goal would be to have the facility completed by 2024.

Planners said the project could be done as just a remodeling and reconfiguration of the courthouse portion — excluding the newer sheriff’s department and jail that dates to the early 1990s — if necessary.

Representatives of Maas Brothers said that, although they can’t see into the future, it appears that construction prices should be relatively favorable in the next two or three years, so the county could get a good deal in what they called “a construction buyer’s market.”

Funding for the project would be conducted through borrowing programs that are being developed by Ehlers Public Finance Advisors.

“Once it is determined if a project would move forward, as well as the scope of the project, work would primarily be financed by general obligations bonds,” Jefferson County Administrator Ben Wehmeier said. “Based on a proposed schedule and draw schedule, the financing would be structured over multiple years. This would maximize the potential for bank-qualified bonds to reduce the cost of debt.”

Full renovations would likely keep the building functional for the next 30-50 years.

Wehmeier said the next steps in the process will be for the various committees involved, as well as the board, to determine if the county should move forward with the project, modify it, or not do it at all.

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New Hustisford librarian ready to serve

HUSTISFORD — In her second full day as library director, Nicole Mszal has her sights on making the Hustisford Community Library a shining gem.

“I want the residents of Hustisford and others from surrounding areas to feel welcomed when they walk through our doors,” she said Tuesday. “I want to help make this is a valuable community asset to all ages.”

Mszal, a self-proclaimed bookworm, enjoys immersing herself in the fantasy genre through such authors as Elizabeth Haydon and Sara Douglass when she’s not working in her garden.

If that’s not enough, she also plays the violin. Her skilled playing earned her a music scholarship to Illinois Wesleyan University, where she graduated with a degree in anthropology.

Soon after, she found herself traveling to Japan, where she taught English for four years.

“My Japanese wasn’t really good, but I learned about the culture and gained a new appreciation for the English language,” she said. “I loved the job I was in. Every day I was teaching in a different elementary or middle school.”

She lived in a small Japanese town similar in size to Hustisford.

“It was a wonderful experience,” she said.

Mszal, who is from Villa Park, Ill., earned a master’s degree in library science from Dominican University, a private Catholic University in River Forest, Ill. and a master’s degree in public administration from the Stuart School of Business, which is an academic unit of the Illinois Institute of Technology.

Mszal traces her humble beginnings to becoming a library director as a page in high school. She received her start at her hometown’s Villa Park Public Library, where she worked as a high school student.

Since 2016, Mszal has been a librarian, but this is her first position as a library director.

But she’s ready for it.

“I just want to help people find joy in reading,” she said. “Every day working in a library is different, but the people make it a special and unique experience.”

Hustisford School District Administrator Heather Cramer, who assisted in the interviewing process for a new library director, said Mszal personifies positivity.

“As a library board member, I am excited for the energy and expertise that Nicole will bring to our community. She has a wealth of knowledge and experience that will help to expand our library programs,” Cramer said. “She will bring a new energy to the team as we work to build an employee group that will share the same vision and mission of our library and that is to serve our citizens and community members.

“She shared new insight and a new energy that will be valuable for the entire community,” Cramer said. “Her love of the library was evident when talking with her. We are excited to welcome her to our community and are looking forward to all she has to offer.”

Mszal replaces former Hustisford Library Director Annie Bahringer, who took a position as library director with the North Shore Library in Glendale.