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County eyes bank building

Pierce County is looking for a real estate consultant to evaluate and assess the Ellsworth M&I Bank and analyze the benefits of buying versus renting that building.

The county has been renting space in the bank--which is next door to the courthouse--for $54,000 a year. Currently, that rented space is used by the economic support division of the human services department.

Administrative Coordinator Curt Kephart said bank representatives are interested in selling the building, with the possibility of renting back part for their own use.

While this project will do nothing to solve county jail needs addressed in the 1998 Voorhis Associates plan, it could help solve courthouse security and space needs, said Kephart.

"It doesn't address everything, but it does address a number of issues," he said. "(The courthouse) would become the justice center and then we can improve security in the courthouse."

Kephart said another space needs study suggested aligning several departments--including register of deeds, county clerk, treasurer and finance and administrative offices--in a joint site.

He said the move could improve efficiency by allowing some sharing of staff and equipment.

"It's about security in this building (the courthouse) and space for those offices," he said.

If the general government offices were moved out, the courthouse could be devoted to courts and court-related services, said Kephart.

During a joint meeting of the Building and Fairgrounds Committee and the Finance and Personnel Committee Nov. 6, supervisors voted to hire Commonweal Development Corporation, Eau Claire, to do the M&I building analysis for $10,000.

But questions arose about the appropriateness of that vote because only one member of the building committee attended and he chaired the meeting.

After the meeting, Corporation Counsel Brad Lawrence also advised county policy requires a formal request for proposal process to obtain professional services costing more than $5,000.

Last week, the Finance and Personnel Committee authorized Kephart to advertise for proposals.

Kephart said he had already contacted four possible vendors to see if they are interested in submitting proposals. He said two of those companies indicated they no longer are.

It costs money to prepare proposals, and it probably doesn't make business sense to add that expense to so small a project, suggested Supervisor Rich Purdy.

Kephart said he has spent nine months negotiating on this project and this recent backtracking undermines his credibility.

He said it raises the questions, "Am I or am I not empowered to act on behalf of the county and am I acting in good faith?"

The county is now looking for a consultant to test air quality in the M&I building; evaluate the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system; analyze the construction; assess the facilities and offer advice on office relocation; do a cost benefit analysis; and prepare a final summary report.