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New highway storage building construction underway

Earth has been moved and walls are rising for the new Pierce County Highway Department storage building in Ellsworth.

The heated metal frame building will house construction equipment, haul trucks, motor graders and support vehicles, plus patching blacktop for winter use, according to Highway Commissioner Ross Christopherson. Once the new structure is available, expected to be next spring, the department will vacate the "blue building" near the village's west business district, Christopherson said Thursday.

"We've been discussing the building needs since 2004," he said, noting the project has been on the department's capital improvement plan for approximately four years.

Highway officials considered the value of having storage space on-site in pursuing the facility, he said. As part of this centralization, a storage shed in El Paso, used for mower tractors and snow plows, has been sold. The department is also vacating a quonset building at the Pierce County Fairgrounds.

Safety was a factor in the pursuit, the commissioner said, as the location of the blue building in a village residential area has posed hazards. Not only have the department's large trucks been driven down a residential street, but a semi-tractor with a "low-boy" trailer carrying large equipment has had to be backed onto the street.

"There are pedestrians, bicyclists, children and others in that neighborhood," he said.

Efficiency was another consideration, Christopherson said. Workers had to be dropped off and picked up at the blue building, often necessitating a vehicle to be left there during the work day and, thus, unavailable for higher priority purposes. Additionally, other county departments, including courthouse maintenance and land surveying, presently need more storage space.

"It's a good fit for the courthouse, right in their campus area," he said, referring to the blue building being situated between the county office building and the fairgrounds.

The county's building committee is in the process of determining the best uses for that structure, he said. After the new highway storage facility opens, the sheriff's indoor impound area will move from its present space at highway headquarters to the blue building, freeing up room at the former for highway's bridge unit.

Footings have been installed and some cement poured for the partial walls on which the new facility will rest. He said the 108-by-220-foot building will have tan side walls and overhead doors on either end. There will be a cement floor inside the structure, being built just north of the existing main shop.

Red Wing Construction was chosen as general contractor, one of eight bidders for the project, which is to cost $711,814, the commissioner said. Completion is scheduled for mid-winter, sometime in either January or February, depending on weather and other work conditions.

The blue building was originally constructed in 1961, when the former highway department headquarters was where the county office building is now, Christopherson said. Trucks, motor graders, drafting and engineering, plus winter blacktop patching, were housed there. The sign shop was there, too, relocated later when the shop adjacent to the present headquarters opened in 1980. The bridge unit then began occupying its previous space.

In '04, highway officials began working with engineering firm Short Elliott and Hendrickson to put together design and building specifications for the structure now going up, he said. Budget numbers were gathered at that time. After a number of meetings on the topic, the county board approved construction of the new highway storage building in August. Officials sent out for bids the same month.