New county board room among Government Center upgradesAn early phase of Washington County's goal of creating a one-stop shop for citizen services should be complete next month.
An early phase of Washington County's goal of creating a one-stop shop for citizen services should be complete next month.
The county is in the middle of a multi-year, multi-million-dollar remodel of its Government Center in Stillwater. A project milestone comes in March, when a new County Board room is opened on the fifth floor.
Not only will that change where residents go to watch county commissioners in action, but it will vacate first-floor space for a renovation that will put departments most used by the public under one roof.
"The first thing we looked at was which of the departments have a lot of public use and traffic," county administrator Jim Schug said of the project design.
By the end of 2010, officials say the Washington County Property Records and Taxpayer Services Department will have a new, prominent spot in the first floor of the government center. That agency handles taxes, assessments, licensing and elections, and a visit there is the main way many citizens interact with the county. During the renovations, the department has been housed in a satellite office a mile west of the Government Center.
The new County Board room likely will be most visiting citizens' draw to the renovated fifth floor. The administration department's offices also will be on that top floor, as will office space for county commissioners.
Commissioners currently meet in a first-floor room that is not ideal for a large public turnout or for people watching meetings on TV at home, staff said. Areas of the room are dark, there is an obstructed view from the public seating area and, if a meeting draws an overflow crowd, people are sent to a cafeteria down the hall to watch the televised proceedings on a monitor.
"The current board room has been very functional but it has some real limitations," Schug said. "It has a pillar in the middle of the room, for one thing, and the technology has gotten really dated."
The new County Board room will seat about 150 people, about the same as the current chamber, but there are no obstructed views. Four large monitors are affixed to the walls, and there are two areas for staff or citizen presentations, said Don Theisen, county public works director.
The top-floor room is awash in natural light, but room-darkening shades will be used during presentations.
Residents who watch County Board meetings on TV will notice improved sound and video quality when commissioners move upstairs, Theisen said. He compared the upgrade to switching from a VHS tape to a DVD or from traditional TV to high-definition TV.
There are five commissioners, but the new County Board room dais has space for seven. It was preparation for a possible future expansion of the board to reflect the county's growing population.
The room was designed for more than just County Board meetings. Other civic commissions and organizations will use the space.
A handful of departments are seeing changes or switching offices as part of the Government Center project.
Community Corrections is moving from the government center to the courts building. The county attorney's office moved to the Law Enforcement Center, so its third-floor Government Center space will be used for an expansion of the Public Health Department. The Community Services Department, another frequently visited office, will remain on the second floor.
A redesigned Government Center first-floor lobby will direct residents to the various departments.
Hard hats and chain-link fences have been a common sight around the Government Center complex for some time. The Law Enforcement Center project was completed last year, and a renovation of the courts area is under way.
Government Center renovations will total about $9.2 million, Theisen said. The multi-year construction at the Government Center complex, including the courts area renovation and the Law Enforcement Center addition, total about $59 million.
As the Government Center space is being renovated, workers also are replacing all of the building windows. The $412,000 project involves replacing wood-frame windows, some of which had air leaks and mold problems, Theisen said. The new windows are more energy efficient.
Staff defended the need for and cost of the Government Center improvements. The changes are designed to accommodate county employees until at least 2025, and include renovations to some areas of the building that have not been altered since its 1986 opening, Schug said.
"It's been very serviceable," he said, "and we expect the improvements and construction we've done to last well into the future."