ROGERS CITY - Presque Isle County employees will meet with an architect next week to discuss plans for a new county courthouse.
Lisa Wrate of U.P. Engineering and Architects presented county commissioners the drawings of a proposed new courthouse at their meeting Friday. It would replace Presque Isle County's century-old courthouse and incorporate an existing, attached annex and sheriff's department. She explained some of the design's features, and told them what needs to happen next before construction can begin - if county commissioners opt to go ahead with the project.
The drawings show the two-story structure would have two courtrooms, one for district court and one for circuit court, several new offices and a new commissioners chamber. The new courthouse also will have a courtyard, wrapping around an open square with the current annex forming one side and the jail and sheriff's department forming another.
Incorporating two existing buildings presented some considerable design challenges, Wrate said. The existing jail will need a sprinkler system added, and daylight shafts to let light into the jail cells will need to be incorporated into the new second story, to name a few. The drawings she presented Friday solved the latter issue.
After having county employees fill out surveys to determine how much space each county office would need, the firm drew up a plan, Wrate said.
"That's where we are," she said. "I haven't gotten any screaming emails from any staff, and I gave them all my card."
Next, UPEA needs to design mechanical, electrical and plumbing designs for the building, Wrate said. Once these are complete, project estimators will have a much more detailed idea of how much the project will cost.
Commissioners asked about the window of opportunity to make any changes to the design. Wrate said there's still time, but there will be a cutoff if commissioners want construction to begin this fall. Commissioner Steve Lang pointed out that any changes made after construction begins would be very expensive.
"This is the grassroots design phase," he said. "Once we create that envelope, as you called it, there isn't any change we can make out of that that isn't going to cost us big money."
To address any possible issues, Wrate will return Wednesday to talk with county employees. In the mean time, there are copies of the plans in the courthouse for employees to review.
Commissioners have tried for decades to replace the courthouse, the main portion of which dates from 1881. The third story has been closed off, and there are numerous issues with leaks and inadequate insulation, among others. Commissioners are hoping to go ahead with a $4 million project that would tear down the old section and replace it.
"We committed to look at this plan, and I think we ought to see it through," Chairman Carl Altman said. "It does take care of a lot of issues we have with security and the courts, and different things we have issues with here on this old building."
Before any of this can happen, the county needs to figure out how to finance the project, Altman said. Commissioners have decided to build the courthouse without raising taxes on county residents, and in February announced their intention to issue bonds to pay for the project.
"That's still going to be probably one of the major hurdles we have," Altman said. "Once the thing did go to bid and we get the bids back from the contractors, then we take a good hard look at how can we afford this."
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