County balks at $12 million price tag for new highway facility

The current Becker County Highway Department complex on the north side of Detroit Lakes. (Nathan Bowe / Tribune)

Sticker shock hit the Becker County Board Tuesday, March 17, when two options for a new highway department site -- one option with one larger building and one option with two separate buildings -- came in at about $12 million each.

The board had been expecting the project to cost about $8 million, and several commissioners were especially unhappy that the cost estimate by McGough for two separate buildings was the higher of the two, since the idea was to save money with a separate, cheaper, warm storage building.

Instead, McGough’s estimate for the two-building option came in at just over $12 million, and its estimate for one building was just over $11.9 million.

Separate buildings are more expensive because they require separate electrical and mechanical systems, and both buildings must meet state fire codes and other building codes, Jesse Helland, preconstruction services director with McGough, told the county board Tuesday.

“In both options, the office and (maintenance) shop areas remain the same, with walls of insulated precast panels like the ones used in the new Becker County Jail,” Helland said.


In the one-building option, the entire structure, including the large warm-storage area, is made of the precast panels.

In the two-building option, the separate warm-storage building would be wood-framed with an exterior of architectural precast concrete and metal, with thermal insulation.

“To me, these numbers just don’t add up,” said Commissioner Larry Knutson. “I don’t understand such a high cost on this building -- I think we need to look at different options.”

Commissioner Ben Grimsley agreed, and said he would not support the project if it’s too costly.

McGough “took a really deep dive” into its estimate, but could reevaluate, amend the proposal, and develop a less expensive project, Helland said.

Commissioner Don Skarie added: “Something’s got to give here -- $12 million for a building, and the economy is going to be in the pits (because of the coronavirus),” he said.

Commissioner Barry Nelson made a motion to go with the one-building option, but to have McGough work up changes so that the project is more affordable.

The motion doesn’t include any cost caps, but during discussion, commissioners talked of capping costs at $8 million, but adding alternate features up to a total of $9 million or $9.5 million, so commissioners could better understand what the county would be sacrificing with an $8 million cap.


Nelson’s motion was approved 3-2, with Knutson and Grimsley voting in opposition.

The board earlier decided to build the facility on North Tower Road, where it could share gas pumps with a new Detroit Lakes public works building to be built next door. Soil borings have been done on the site, and Apex Engineering has been doing preliminary work on the site design, said Becker County Highway Engineer Jim Olson.

McGough was hired in January as the county’s construction manager to oversee the Highway Department project, based in part on a good relationship forged with the County Board for work done on the new jail project.

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