HUGO — What to do to improve the public works facility has been on the minds of city staff and the City Council for a couple of years now.
The facility, located on 137th Street N., was built in 2004 for $2.5 million. Back in 2018, the council announced one of its goals was to conduct a space needs study for city buildings. Employees were asked to complete a survey of needs for the facilities they utilize.
In 2019, the council found a space needs study for the public works building was needed. Jeff Oertel, of Oertel Architects, presented the study findings to the council and city staff at a workshop Nov. 12.
Before delving into the findings of the study, Public Works Director Scott Anderson took the crew on a tour of the building. He pointed out some inefficiencies of the building as it stands today, including the fact that 21 people utilize the building (not including sheriff’s deputies), a lot of equipment is stored outside, the fueling station is in dire need of upgrades, mechanical systems are near the end of their lifespan and there is a lack of storage space, bathrooms and break rooms.
“The sky is not falling. We are making do with the building we have,” Anderson explained. “It has served us well. Of course, we would love to see some kind of expansion soon. We will continue to operate as we need to.” Anderson added that the public works department currently doesn’t have any divisions or designated areas within the building for those divisions, but he sees that happening in the city’s near future.
City Administrator Bryan Bear said that the city’s population was slightly over 6,000 in 2000 and is now approaching 16,000. According to the city’s Comprehensive Plan, the city could see a population of around 40,000 by 2040.
Oertel explained that his firm has designed more than 50 public works buildings, which are all planned by looking at the client’s needs for the next 20-25 years. With an estimated $7.3 million budget, the existing 22,000-square-foot building could be expanded to 61,364 square feet and include a variety of upgrades to make the building more efficient. Upgrades could include widening the building, expanding the vehicle storage area, and creating a one-way drive-thru. The addition could also incorporate more restrooms and a break room, space for lockers, and improvements to the wash bay, including an undercarriage wash.
Councilman Chuck Haas wanted to know what the advantages of renovating the existing building as opposed to building a new building would be. He also asked where a new building would be located. Oertel explained that if the city chose to renovate/expand its current facility, it would be out of commission for a year. “Every space in the building would need to be touched. Thirty percent of the projects we have done are renovations and expansions,” Oertel said. “If you build new, it would be more efficient, and the bidding climate would likely be better because contractors like to start from scratch.”
A new facility would likely save the city an estimated $600,000, according to Oertel. Bear explained that there are not many areas left in the city that would be big enough and have appropriate uses for a public works facility. One location the city could consider, Bear said, is Irish Avenue Park, located at 14420 Irish Ave. N., which has 125 acres. The new building would take up a maximum of 15 acres.
Bear explained that nothing has been decided on the location, and the concept has yet to be vetted by the various city boards. White Bear Area Schools currently has an application pending with the city for a future bus yard in the Bald Eagle Industrial Park. Bear said school representatives toured the public works building and have not ruled it out as an option for either the bus yard or a potential leasing opportunity.
At the end of the meeting, the mayor, council and city staff were leaning toward continuing to explore a new facility at the Irish Avenue Park location. Mayor Tom Weidt directed city staff to continue to work with Oertel on the possibility. No decisions have been made about which option the city will pursue; the workshop was simply to present information, ask questions and gather comments from city staff and the council on the various options.
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