"It's been ill-kept, ill maintained," Caledonia resident Chuck Schulte told county commissioners on Jan. 22.

Schulte's topic was the county's Highway Department headquarters in Caledonia; a building that he said has been so poorly cared for that it could become unusable without some attention.

"I've been told that they have had orders down there at the county shop that no maintenance is to be done on that building," Schulte said.

"This happened in 1996-97, so you can do the math on that. We've had a building that hasn't been maintained for that period of time, so what do you expect?"

Presenting the board with a stack of 33 photographs of both the interior and exterior of the facility, Schulte cited deplorable conditions, including cracked and broken blocks and windows, broken and falling stucco, roofing issues, air gaps around doors and windows that waste heat, and a falling ceiling inside the break room.

"I don't know of any apparent long-term or short-term plan for this facility," Schulte said. "Is there one?"

"There has been a plan to replace it," Commissioner Steve Schuldt replied.

Previous commissioners had purchased 22 acres of farmland north of 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 to the county board on Nov. 24, 2009.

More than the Highway Department would have moved into the massive facility. It included 12,980 square feet 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.

Later, a different set of commissioners balked at the $6,976,588 price tag. The final blow to the plan came when the board voted to put the land up for sale on Oct. 23, 2012.

Schuldt said he would like to look into a far less expensive alternative, but still favored putting up a new shop.

"Why would I want to support that, when you didn't take care of what you had?" Schulte asked. "The problems with this building were preventable. If you own something you have to take care of it, or you'd better get rid of it.

"I would develop a long-term and short-term plan for this building. For a short-term plan, I'd do a little winterizing. The county hasn't even filled the cracks around the windows and doors. They really don't care. Just a few cans of foam and a little caulk would save on the heat bill.

"I define long-term as a year. I don't know the condition of this building, but if I were on the Highway Department Building Committee, I would find out what it's going to cost to re-roof that building. I'm not saying I would do it, but to make the decision I need to have answers."

The cost of repairs to damaged blocks and upgrading the structure is also something commissioners should know, Schulte said.

Schuldt said part of the 22-acre site (which hasn't sold yet) might still be used to put up "a very utilitarian structure."

Schulte said that the new site might be expensive to develop, since sewer and roadway infrastructure would need to go in regardless of the type of shop built.

"I think you have to look at that, but I don't think you have the option of doing nothing anymore," he added.

Commissioner Schuldt said the old building might be "too far gone" to repair, but estimates are needed to make that decision, he said. "The basic experience with fixing an old house is that you can shovel a lot of money into it and still have an old house," he noted.

"I guess I would rather put something new up that's going to be more functional for our purposes. We could sell that property," Schuldt pointed out.

"I wouldn't hire an architect," Schulte said. "I don't think you need an architect. You need somebody who knows how to lay block."

"I would agree with you on that," Schuldt replied.

"I was out there two weeks ago," Commissioner Dana Kjome said, "and I was shocked at the condition of the shop. I could also see that the building is not functional. When they bring in their trucks and plows, they can't even get the doors shut in the winter. They have to work outside (to perform maintenance). That's not good working conditions.

"I'd like to see a functional building, but I don't know that I would go for a high-priced one," Kjome added.

"I'm trying to build a fire, because I can see the longer we go the more expensive this will get," Schulte said. "What happens is that building, all of a sudden isn't functional at all, for anybody. What are you going to do then?"

Other news from the board

Commissioners also approved the annual Minnesota Department of Agriculture's Best Management Practices Loan Program (AGBMP) report and 2013 funding application.

Environmental Services Director Rick Frank said that the county uses AGBMP funds for well, feedlot and septic compliance.

Residents who qualify can receive low-interest loans to upgrade their systems.

Frank reported that the county will request $99,760 to fund the program in 2013. Those monies originate from federal coffers, funneled through the State of Minnesota. The loans are currently available at 3 percent interest with terms of up to seven years.