ROGERS CITY - Presque Isle County won't order a study on its courthouse's condition just yet, but may reconsider some time after a budget planning meeting.
County commissioners heard Friday from Lisa Wrate of UP Engineers & Architects, who proposed a study that would look at how much office space the county has now and how much it will need. Previous studies were completed before the county bought and renovated the Nowicki Building. She'd also analyze how much energy every county-owned building uses, and how much it would cost to bring the oldest portion up to code.
County officials have wanted to replace the courthouse for some time, the oldest part of which dates from 1883. However, voters defeated a $4.11 million bond issue for a replacement in November - 2,071-886 - and they have rejected similar attempts in the past. When county commissioners were promoting the bond issue prior to the latest attempt, many voters asked why the county didn't renovate the old building instead.
"We didn't really have anything concrete to offer on whether to do this new building versus remodeling," Chairman Carl Altman said after the meeting.
Commissioners agreed fixing the building likelyis infeasible, and could cost a major portion of, if not more than, the expense of a replacement. But they also balked at the idea of spending more money on courthouse studies, at least for now. Commissioner Mike Darga said he'd rather wait until the end of the year and see if the county has the money for the $10,400 study, and Altman pointed out the board was meeting later that day to discuss county finances.
However, Commissioner Kris Sorgenfrei argued for getting the study. She said it would be the first step in convincing voters the old part of the building is beyond repair, and the study would be needed if the county opted for renovations anyway. Sorgenfrei also pointed out there's $385,151.65 in the courthouse construction fund, according to the latest report from Treasurer Bridget LaLonde.
"I don't think $10,400 out of that fund isn't going to make a difference overall in our budget," she said.
Ultimately, commissioners voted the study down, but they all agreed something needs to be done. Sorgenfrei gave the lone yes vote for the study and said a building engineer could tell them whether the courthouse will hold up for a few more years or "collapse tomorrow." If someone is hurt by the failing building, the county will be liable.
Commissioner Robert Schell said that means taxpayers would be liable as well, and could have to foot the bill for any liability claim against the county.
The old building is riddled with issues, ranging from mold to leaky roofs and walls, from a crumbling foundation to poor energy efficiency, Altman said. Commissioners are all too aware, having approved numerous bills to repair some of the problems, but have had a harder time conveying these problems to voters.
"To try to make the public understand those issues, that's kind of where the study was directed to help make the decision," he said after the meeting.
In other business, Assistant Prosecutor Meghan Hurley told commissioners she's accepted a new job in Berrien County, also as an assistant prosecutor. She'll leave in March, she said, and has been working for the county since February 2008. Originally from Buffalo, N.Y., this was her first job after graduating from the Thomas M. Cooley Law School in Lansing.
"Hopefully I'll have as great an experience in the new office as I did here," she said, adding Prosecutor Richard Steiger has been "a great boss."
Hurley said she's making the move so she can live with her soon-to-be husband in West Michigan.