Houston County commissioners discussed the needs of their Highway Department headquarters facility last week, but found a lot more questions than answers.

County Engineer Brian Pogodzinski reported that the current office/shop facility in Caledonia was built in stages between the 1940s-60s. It is currently undergoing a series of OSHA-mandated upgrades.

A report from the State Fire Marshall cites 11 areas of concern from simple items like discontinuing the use of multi-plug adapters to installing a door, handrail, some emergency lighting and exit signs. All will need to be addressed.

Previous commissioners had purchased 22 acres of land near Caledonia High School to build a new public works facility. That project progressed as far as an architect's plan from HSR Associates (La Crosse, Wis.) that was presented on Nov. 24, 2009.

More than the Highway Department would have moved into that proposed facility. It included 12,980 sq. ft. of offices, a 13,570 sq. ft. shop/maintenance space, an 11,820 sq. ft. large vehicle storage building, a 13,575 sq. ft. small vehicle storage building, a 10,395 sq. ft. "cold storage building" and a 14,000 sq. ft. salt storage building. The projected cost was $6,976,588.

Pogodzinski said that there are three main options: "Are we going to build a new facility by the school or stay where we're at and build a facility there? Or, are we going to sustain the current facility, and in the future, do some pretty significant upgrades or improvements to that building?"

"We can only patch things together for so long," he pointed out.

A "phased-together" approach that would include only the main building and shop, mechanic's area and large vehicle storage from the $6.9 million plan would cost approximately $4 million, Pogodzinski said.

"If we wanted to stay at the existing site and phase things together, replace the existing shop/mechanics area and somewhere down the road replace the large vehicle storage area, to do that the site's going to need to increase in size to meet the storm water requirements, under current law."

Under the terms of the State Fire Marshal's report, the county will no longer be allowed to park trucks with plows attached inside at the current building since it obstructs clear walkways, Pogodzinski reported.

If plows have to be mounted outside each morning, that will take an additional 20-30 minutes to prepare each plow for work. "I wouldn't want to store our plow trucks outside," he stated.

Chairman Justin Zmyewski said a heated area for all of the plow trucks to park in isn't a necessity.

When asked about funding, Pogodzinski said no state grants are available to build a new facility. However, a certain amount of CSAH funds can be used to provide facilities to maintain roadways, he stated.

The downside of funneling any portions of those funds into a building project is that road projects could be delayed.

"What do we need, versus what we want?" Zmyewski asked. Pogodzinski said a new office area, mechanic's shop and large vehicle storage are the most pressing concerns.

For office use, Zmyewski suggested using existing space in the Historic Courthouse.

"Why does your county engineer have to be in the same building as the guy turning wrenches?" he asked.

Pogodzinski replied that having everyone together is more efficient for a number of reasons.

"The plans that you have, I don't think are what we need," Commissioner Steve Schuldt told Pogodzinski. "Things like a conference room can be eliminated."

Pogodzinski said that to relocate to the 22-acre site, approximately $760,000 would be needed for site preparation, $1.2 million for a building with office/storage space, and another $1.5 million for a shop/large vehicle storage building.

"I think that we know we'll have to do something, but maybe you can come back with (some) pros and cons of a smaller facility which we really need, out there or here," Commissioner Teresa Walter said.

"That's what I have here, to be honest," Pogodzinski said.

Zmyewski then passed out paperwork to the board, including a report from Finance Director Carol Lapham that showed a 79.31 percent increase in the county levy from 2005 to 2013. In addition, he offered plans for steel maintenance buildings.

"Brian's got $600,000, so what can we do with the money we currently have?" he asked. "If we can sell the land for $300,000, you would have close to a million dollars to work with.

"But to just say, 'Here's a blank check, whatever you need, write it,' this is disturbing. It has to be a realistic facility. It doesn't have to be the Taj Mahal."

Commissioner Judy Storlie asked where office space could be found in the Historic Courthouse.

Zmyewski stated that spaces are available, including the former commissioners' room.

"The question is, do we use space that we already have (or build)? We also have the jail over there, sitting empty. Maybe we could have testing facilities in that old jail."

A new maintenance shop might have to do for now, Zmyewski stated, while office space waits for later.

"I'm really struggling with your short-sightedness," Storlie replied. "I think that if we only look at the now when we're doing things... we wouldn't worry about the future."

"We cannot sustain this type of an increase," Zmyewski said of the levy.

Storlie then asked where the numbers came from, and Lapham confirmed that she had supplied the information. Walter noted the impact of the Justice Center on those numbers.

Pogodzinski said a metal building could work, but the long-term cost might be prohibitive. By spending another 20 percent on a different type of walls a building designed to last twice as long might be built, he said.

"Maintenance is as good as the maintenance you keep up on," Zmyewski said. He said a well-maintained steel building can last a long time.

"That brick building over there, obviously was neglected and didn't last out its lifespan," Zmyewski noted.

Pogodzinski suggested spreading payments out over time and using some CSAH dollars to help pay for a new facility.

"We need more information as far as bonding," Walter offered. "I'd like to take a look at your $4 million dollar plan to see what's in there," Schuldt said.

"What's your $600,000 plan?" Zmyewski asked. He said that for $260,000, an insulated steel building measuring 100 ft. by 120 ft. can be built, including a washroom and a 10 ft. by 10 ft. office. A larger office space could be placed in the same type of building for an additional $150 per square foot, he added.

Zmyewski suggested adopting a "pay-as-you-go" plan utilizing monies already on hand, then saving for the next building of a new facility.

"Would you go to the taxpayers?" he asked Storlie.

"I might go to the taxpayers for some things," she replied. "I honestly can't say that I am not going to go to the taxpayers for any amount of money on this."

Walter suggested holding a special meeting for further discussions on the matter. The board settled on Thursday, June 6, from 10 a.m. to 12 noon.