By Bob Zientara
When it was built two years after the end of World War II, the Barron County Highway Department’s storage garage was designed for vehicles that are a fraction of the size of today’s quad-axle dump trucks and snowplows.
Thanks to the fact that the county has paid off roughly $11 million in debt incurred when the Justice Center was built 15 years ago, a similar amount can now be borrowed to finance construction of a new highway garage, to be located at the existing County Highway Department grounds on North Sixth Street in Barron.
It is proposed for an area between the 1947 garage and a road salt storage shed, built about five years ago in the Highway Department yard
Although exact costs are not yet known, county leaders expect to include the borrowing for a new garage in the 2020 budget, to be adopted later this year by the Board of Supervisors.
“What we do know is that every truck we have is much bigger than the ones that used the (existing garage) back in the 1940s,” said Mark Servi, county highway commissioner.
“Space in the existing garage is very tight, and we worry about damage to equipment because of the lack of maneuvering space around the quad-axle trucks.”
The building isn’t big enough to store snowplow blades and equipment inside, but the new garage will provide an all-weather space to store, connect and use the plows, he added.
“This is going to save on the cost of equipment, build safety and save time,” Servi said.
After he was hired in 2008, Servi worked with a committee that developed a master plan for the Highway Department.
The committee’s first task was to decide whether the department should remain in Barron or move elsewhere.
“The decision was soon made to stay in Barron,” Servi said.
The master plan included the salt storage shed (a large, wooden structure about 400 yards east of Hwy. 25), as well as a new cold storage garage west of the highway and, last year, a fuel depot to serve Highway Department trucks and other county-owned vehicles.
“We have acquired property as it became available,” he added. Some of the land is along a city of Barron right of way that extends east of Hwy. 25 near its intersection with River Avenue. Another site was added between the Highway Department yard and a nearby mobile home development to the east.
With budget planning started, new land acquired, and new buildings already in place, the County Board Highway Committee is about to embark on the next phase of the master plan – scoping out the size and cost of the new garage.
Servi helped oversee construction of a similar garage in Washburn County, where he was highway commissioner from 1998 through 2008.
He said one lesson that was learned from that process was to make sure that outside light can get into Barron’s new garage.
“Washburn County’s garage is a big box with no windows,” Servi said. “At the time, it was considered cutting-edge design. But the garage in Polk County (at Balsam Lake) has skylights and window panels. Design has evolved over 15 years.”
A meeting is planned Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019, to speak with company representatives who may be interested in bidding on the design and engineering process.
“If we hire (a consultant) in November, (and) if all goes as planned, our goal is to break ground in the 2021 construction season,” he said.
Servi and the Highway Committee will make periodic reports to the County Board to keep supervisors updated on their progress.
“We want this process to be as transparent as possible,” he said.