Dating back to 1940s

 An image created by Chippewa Falls-based CBS Squared lists buildings at the County Highway Department campus at Barron, along with the years they were built. The existing highway garage (lettered A and B) were constructed in 1947. Photo contributed

Barron County Board members will meet Monday, Feb. 17, to consider whether to hire a Lake Elmo, Minn.-based engineering company to double check the estimated cost of a new garage for the county Highway Department in Barron.

Although final figures have yet to be tallied, preliminary estimates for the 160,588 square-foot garage – along with three other smaller buildings -- is between $15 million and $25 million.

The County Board Executive Committee agreed Thursday, Feb. 6, to recommend that the Board of Supervisors agree to hire Foth Engineering, of Minnesota, to conduct a “peer review” of a cost estimate developed in a space study done by Chippewa Falls-based CBS Squared.

If the County Board OKs the recommendation, Foth Engineering will take at least 30 days after to do its work, at a cost of no more than $4,500, including expenses. The Executive Committee members talked about having the entire County Board meet as a committee of the whole to review Foth’s proposal “so all (supervisors) can openly discuss and ask questions before making a large financial decision,” according to Executive Committee minutes.

French said he hoped the Foth study would meet four goals

• Confirm that CBS Squared initial cost estimate “is within an acceptable range.”

• Do we need everything (that the space study is) proposing and, if not, how do you cut them?

• Supervisors should walk the site at the Highway Department campus to become familiar with the project.

• County leaders should remember that “costs are increasing every year. Buildings (cost more) than in the past. The sooner (that construction starts), the better.”

There’s a possibility that supervisors will be invited to take a bus trip to visit nearby highway garages in Washburn and Polk counties as they consider the project.

County Board Chair Louie Okey, Dist. 16, town of Oak Grove, noted that Barron County will finish paying off a roughly $11 million debt for the Justice Center within the next two years, and can finance much of the cost of the new highway garage within existing budget guidelines.

“The stars are aligning with the Justice Center debt coming off (the books), but we need to discuss this,” he said.

The next day, Friday, Feb. 7, the County Board Highway Committee continued discussion on the new garage together with two executives with CBS Squared, including Bob Sworski, senior project manager and senior architect, and Sheryl Claflin, president and project manager.

Sworski mentioned the $20 million estimate and said “we’re pretty confident with our numbers, and (the estimates) should carry through into the next (2021 calendar year) construction cycle.

He said that, if built, the new facility will give Barron County three times the square footage of heated, inside storage for highway vehicles compared to the existing 1947 garage. With expensive equipment protected indoors, and with more efficient heating and electricity, the new garage could save the county about $400,000 per year, he added.

Committee chair Don Horstman, Dist. 26, towns of Cumberland and Stanfold, said heated garage space can be a money saver.

“Since I have housed my equipment inside, I have substantially cut my combine repairs,” he said. Increased storage “has changed things tremendously. I am saving thousands of dollars per year.

Committee member Dale Heinecke, Dist. 29, towns of Maple Plain and Lakeland, said he had the same experience in the logging business.

“Plus, we are seeing the lowest interest rates in years, and the bonding market is very good,” he said. “There are a lot of things that look positive, if we can swing this (project). I know it adds a debt, but I don’t think it is something we will lose on, if we do it.”

County Highway Commissioner Mark Servi noted that Burnett, Polk and St. Croix counties recently finished new highway garages, which could be visited by Barron County decision makers.