Becker County will move ahead with a new highway department headquarters that will be next to, but not part of, a new Detroit Lakes public works building planned for the same 11-acre site on North Tower Road.

The two entities will share a fueling station and a stormwater retention system, among other things, but will be largely independent.

That’s what county commissioners decided Tuesday, Nov. 5, at a session following the regular board meeting.

In February, the preliminary design of a new $8 million Becker County Highway Department building was unveiled, but a divided county board decided to explore other options.

A “construction manager at risk” will now be hired to deliver the project at a guaranteed maximum price, and to provide professional services and guidance during the design development and construction phases of the project.

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Commissioners hired a construction manager at risk for the recent county jail project, and were impressed with the results.

The county will now issue a request for proposals, and once interviews are conducted and a construction manager at risk is hired, that person will join the planning process. Commissioners are hoping to tap into that expertise to come up with a quality, cost-effective facility.

Commissioner Larry Knutson estimated roughly that the county could save perhaps $3 million by constructing the shop area out of concrete and other heavy-duty materials, the office space out of steel, and using a separate, less-expensive building for warm storage, rather than building a single facility.

A construction manager at risk can help determine if that calculation is correct, said Commissioner Barry Nelson. If the savings is considerably less, it might be worth going with a single-facility design, he said. Knutson agreed.

Choosing an option

The county had been considering five options: Two full joint facilities with the city, a joint facility with a separate warm storage building, and two options for independent facilities for the county and city.

After the first three options were discussed, Knutson said, “let’s cut to the chase — I’m not interested in a shared facility at all.”

Commissioner Ben Grimsley said that the architect’s cost-effectiveness study, if accurate, showed that a shared facility would not save enough money to make it worth going into a long-term partnership with the city.

Commissioner Don Skarie agreed. “I was all for figuring out something, but the cost difference is not enough to justify it,” he said

Separate facilities next to each other, with some shared amenities, is the option preferred by Commissioner John Okeson. “Put in a shared fuel station and keep working pretty much as we are,” he said.

Selecting a site

The county will decide whether to propose a land swap or just buy the North Tower Road site from the city. Soil borings will be taken across the entire North Tower site to ensure it’s suitable for building. The city will likely partner in those tests, said Detroit Lakes Public Works Director Brad Green.

That site has more room and will allow for better traffic flow than the 7.5-acre triangular-sized plot between the new jail and Highway 59, where the county had considered building the new highway department.

“Highway 59 frontage should be commercial development,” Knutson said. “Government has no place there.”

Grimsley said the county should consider selling those frontage lots outright. Nelson said he would first like to give the county Economic Development Authority the option of taking the lead and marketing the site, if it so desires.

The general consensus was that the highway department project is now moving forward.

“All we have to do now is figure out how to finance it,” Knutson said.

A number of options are available to pay for the new facility, said Becker County Highway Engineer Jim Olson, who earlier proposed using an advance on County State Aid Highway funds.

The existing highway department near the BNSF railroad tracks on the north side of Detroit Lakes is well-maintained, but cramped and lacks efficiency, since highway equipment is much larger than it was decades ago, and the fuel pumping station there needs to be upgraded or cleaned up. The main shop building, in particular, is old and has ventilation and other issues.