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County approves plan for new highway garage

An excavator demolishes the former engineering offices of the Lake County Highway Garage while Highway Department employee Paul Thompson (far right) sprays water to keep down dust in April 2018. (Jamey Malcomb/News-Chronicle)

The Lake County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a plan to build a new highway maintenance facility and seek more than $2.7 million in bond financing during a public hearing Tuesday, May 22, in Two Harbors.

The terms of the general obligation bond required the county to approve a five-year capital improvement plan, but the only construction included in the plan is the highway building.

The new, $8.6 million, 50,000-square-foot facility will replace the former 24,000-square-foot structure that was damaged by a fire in December 2016. The building was severely damaged when a plow truck sidelined for repairs caught fire, which quickly spread to the roof.

After more than a year of work between county officials and the county's insurer, Minnesota Counties Governmental Trust (MCIT), there was a settlement for more than $1.7 million for damage to the building.

However, instead of repairing the building, the county decided to invest the settlement amount to build a new facility. The former highway garage was nearly 60 years old and was no longer meeting the needs of the Lake County Highway Department. For example, trucks' plows had to be removed before entering the building.

Architectural firm CBS Squared Inc. presented a plan for a new building to be constructed on the site of the previous building using precast concrete. The precast concrete forms offer several benefits over traditional metal facilities, including a lifespan of 80 years and the walls are reusable if the county chooses to expand the building in the future.

Demolition of the old facility began in late April and was completed earlier in May by the highway department and using rented equipment. Stanley LaBounty also provided a metal shear to the county to bring down the metal frame so the county could sell it to a recycler.

In addition to $2.7 million in bond funding and the $1.7 million settlement with MCIT, the county will allocate $3.1 million of state aid construction funding to the project. The county reserved more than $1 million in state aid funding for projects already scheduled for 2018 and will move projects on its five- and 10-year construction plans back by one year. The county plans to purchase another bond in 2019 to finance the remainder of construction; however, the amount is not set because the county has applied for a $250,000 grant from the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board. The final amount could fluctuate based on the results of the application or if there are unforeseen construction costs.

The board will meet June 26 at 2 p.m. to consider proposals for the purchase of the bonds. Residents can request a countywide vote on the issuance of the bond by gathering signatures on a petition of registered voters that equal at least 5 percent of the votes cast in the last county general election within 30 days of the May 22 meeting.

Jamey Malcomb

Jamey Malcomb has been a reporter for the Pine Journal since October 2018. He previously worked as a reporter for the Lake County News-Chronicle from 2015-2018. Malcomb is a native of North Carolina and holds a bachelor's degree in English and history from the George Washington University and a master's degree in education from George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. Malcomb moved to Minnesota in July 2012 and worked as a sports clerk and news assistant at the Duluth News Tribune. 

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