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Becker County commissioners split on whether to build an $8 million highway department complex

A city plow truck goes by the main shop building at the Becker County Highway Department complex in Detroit Lakes. Nathan Bowe/Tribune1 / 4
The aging fuel pumps at the Becker County Highway Department will have to be upgraded or removed at some point. Nathan Bowe/Tribune2 / 4
A city plow truck goes by the long, narrow office building at the Becker County Highway Department. Nathan Bowe/Tribune3 / 4
A rear view of the county highway department complex, showing the main shop at left and one of several other buildings in the complex at right. Nathan Bowe/Tribune4 / 4

The preliminary design of a new $8 million Becker County Highway Department building was unveiled Tuesday, but a divided county board decided to take a breath and hold a work session before moving forward — giving all five commissioners the chance to take a closer look at existing facilities, and talk about how best to meet needs and pay for any improvements.

At this point, commissioners Barry Nelson, John Okeson and Don Skarie support the project, while commissioners Larry Knutson and Ben Grimsley are largely opposed.

"I'm not sold on this project at all," Knutson said. "Eight million (dollars) is a lot of money."

The existing highway department site is well-maintained, but cramped and lacks efficiency, since highway equipment is much larger than it was 100 years ago, and the fuel pumping station there needs to be upgraded or cleaned up.

All five agree something has to be done about the existing main shop building, which is quite old and has ventilation and other issues.

"I think there's no doubt at all about the (improvement) need for the present shop," Knutson said.

"The present site is 2.3 acres, even if you close the road, it's just not feasible," said Nelson.

"I wouldn't want to invest in our current spot," agreed Grimsley.

"I think there is a big need for this (new) building, this facility," said Okeson.

The county highway department complex has long been located near the BNSF railroad tracks on the north side of Detroit Lakes, a few blocks west of the city street department complex.

The new highway department facility would be located next to the new jail on Highway 59 North, between the jail and the highway.

It would be constructed with heavy-duty industrial steel and precast concrete, with an overhead crane in the maintenance area depending on various building options, its size would be from about 52,000 square feet to about 57,000 square feet, with a vehicle fueling island on the north side of the site.

More than half the new building, 27,300 square feet on the east side, would be used for vehicle storage. The west side would include 12,000 square feet for vehicle maintenance and a wash bay on the south end, 2,000 square feet for shops and materials testing in the middle, and 8,190 square feet for offices on the north end.

Plans include an option for another 4,800-square-foot section of building on the south end, half for vehicle staging and half for vehicle storage.

Another option is for a 19,700-square-foot (stand-alone) cold storage building that would be located on the south end of the site.

Plans also include options for future expansion on the south side of the building — a 4,000 square-foot salt storage area and a potential 14,000-square-foot addition to the vehicle storage area.

The Highway Committee included five options to pay for the new facility, and recommended using a $5.35 million advance in state aid highway funds, $1 million in county sales tax, and $1.65 million in undetermined funding. That would save money in interest payments, since no bonding would be required.

After some heated words back and forth, commissioners decided to take a step back, hold a working session, tour the existing facility, and take another look at the funding options.

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