County board continues to discuss future of proposed Cook County justice center
In August, the Cook County Board of Commissioners approved on a four to one vote what is known as the Capital Improvement Plan (CIP).
The CIP could involve spending approximately $25 million over the next several years as the county updates its buildings and other facilities it owns. The specifics of the plan remain fluid, though the details of the CIP are beginning to emerge. Among the considerations within the CIP are building a new “justice center” at the site of the current law enforcement center in Grand Marias, improving the town hall buildings in Hovland and Colvill, and upkeep on buildings that were poorly built or in need of repair, including the courthouse.
“The main impetus for the development of our capital improvement plan was the fact that we have really neglected to keep up on maintenance of our existing buildings,” Cook County Administrator James Joerke said during a recent WTIP interview.
In August, Commissioner Deb White was the lone vote against the plan. White has repeatedly expressed her lack of support for the proposed justice center, often requesting more information about the project, or alternatives to building a multimillion-dollar structure.
Meanwhile, Cook County has applied for $8.7 million in state bonding to pay for half of the estimated cost of constructing a judicial center on the current site of the Cook County Law Enforcement Center and renovating space in the courthouse that would be vacated by the courts, probation, and the county attorney’s office. The cost of building the new justice center is approximately $17.4 million. The county applied to the state for the $8.7 million that would come in the form of a grant from the office of Minnesota Management and Budget, to offset the cost of the proposed facility.
During a meeting of the county board Oct. 24, the commissioners agreed – on a 4-1 vote, with White dissenting – to “secure the services of an architectural firm to begin planning and design work on the judicial center.” Despite voting in support of the plan, Commissioner Stacey Hawkins said the state financial support of $8.7 million “is never going to happen” and that the county board is spending too much time talking about a project that is not likely to come to fruition anytime soon.
Joerke, however, said he remains “cautiously optimistic” that the state funding will come through. He spoke Oct. 25 with WTIP’s Joe Friedrichs about this topic and other county news. Audio below.