HomeTop StoriesImprovement projects present Grand Forks County with a historic challenge

Improvement projects present Grand Forks County with a historic challenge

April 3—GRAND FORKS — Grand Forks County’s list of current and ongoing capital improvement projects presents a once-in-a-lifetime challenge for county staff and commissioners.

Three construction projects at four facilities are underway or expected to come online sometime this year, and

the expected eviction of the Grand Forks County Sheriff

The departure of the Grand Forks Police Department’s Fifth Street headquarters as early as 2026 means staff are gearing up for yet another construction or renovation project.

County Executive Tom Ford was expected to present the first of several possible options for the sheriff’s office’s new space, a renovation of the old county jail, at Tuesday’s County Commission meeting.

Whether the county repurposes the old jail or finds another space, the project is expected to cost millions of dollars, on top of the tens of millions the county is already paying for new construction, upgrades and repairs to existing facilities.

Here’s a summary of the county’s capital projects over the past five years, including how they are funded, why they are all happening now and perhaps how the county can move forward.

Grand Forks County is working on or about to begin three capital improvement projects.

Contractors last summer began a $33 million expansion of the Grand Forks County Correctional Center and construction of a new Regional Juvenile Assessment Center.

That project

expected to be completed in fall 2025;

The juvenile facility and correctional center are considered one project by the county, although state law requires them to be separate and distinct facilities.

Repairs to the Grand Forks County Courthouse dome

will start at the end of April and run until October 2025; Commissioners approved a guaranteed maximum price of $4.4 million on March 19.

And

repairs to the county’s 25-year-old parking ramp

are expected to begin later this spring, which commissioners have been told will likely last until 2025. Bids for that project are expected to go before the County Commission for approval in the coming months.

Plans for each of these projects have been on the books in one form or another for years.

A 2019 report prepared by county project manager Gracie Lian — then a UND summer intern — noted that the county is expected to face “multiple complex and costly capital improvement needs in the very near future.”

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That report specifically emphasized the expansion of the correctional center, the construction of a new juvenile detention center, and the construction of a multi-purpose facility connected to the county courthouse that would house the sheriff’s office, the prosecutor’s office, and possibly the juvenile facilities would be accommodated. Good.

“These improvements will be expensive and time-consuming, but they are all necessary if the county is to continue delivering public services at the level the community needs,” Lian wrote.

The province has

known since 2018, the correctional center was overcrowded and in need of facilities

such as mental health housing, a medical infirmary and more space for female prisoners.

The infrastructure of the old county jail, home to the county’s juvenile facilities, was “aging or obsolete, and beginning to see the end of its lifespan,” Lian’s report said.

Ford said the county was also aware at the time of the city’s long-term plan to expand the police department to the second floor of the Fifth Street headquarters, where the sheriff’s office is currently housed.

Lian’s report also noted minor capital improvements proposed by staff, including replacing a rubber bladder that covered the courthouse roof, as well as the need to eventually perform routine maintenance on the parking ramp for 20 years of the province.

This is where things get messy.

Lian’s report recommended that the correctional center expansion take place over the next three years, while the sheriff’s department relocation take place over the next five years. The provincial parking ramp projects and the youth prison projects had a term of ten years.

Lian presented her findings to the County Commission in the summer of 2019. Six months later, the COVID-19 pandemic struck.

COVID made it difficult to get contractors and prices prohibitive, said building and grounds manager Bill Gerszewski, and pushed back planning for the county’s big item, the jail center expansion, by years.

“Could this have happened during COVID?” Gerszewski said. ‘Maybe if it had already been developed and designed and approved. But it wasn’t planned yet.’

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Several smaller capital improvement projects took place in 2020 and 2021, some of which were approved before the pandemic. In the summer of 2020, the courthouse roof was redone, while hundreds of thousands of dollars in critical repairs were made to the parking lot around the same time.

The province too

spent $50,000 in February 2021 to renovate parts of the old county jail

for companion care services for children and teens who committed non-crimes after Lutheran Social Services closed. (Nursing care, youth detention, and youth shelter facilities were eventually consolidated within the province as the Regional Youth Assessment Center in 2023.)

However, the province’s facilities deteriorated faster than expected.

Reroofing the courthouse was supposed to keep water out, but during heavy rains in June 2021, leaks occurred throughout the building.

Gerszewski and another county employee crawled through the building’s attic until they identified the source of the leak: the building’s then 118-year-old dome.

The timeline on the provincial parking ramp was pushed back when chunks of concrete began falling from the ramp ceiling in 2022. One chunk actually ended up in the Ford parking lot.

“The repairs were done, but everything that wasn’t done continued to multiply,” Gerszewski said.

As for the old county jail, Gersewski said the air conditioning and HVAC systems have deteriorated to the point today that the facility relies on temporary cooling in the summer.

And of course, there’s the impending expansion of the Grand Forks Police Department, which is putting pressure on the relocation of the sheriff’s office, although City Manager Todd Feland has said the project is on its original schedule.

“Everything that’s there comes back at the same time,” Gerszewski said. “Deferred maintenance can only be postponed for so long.”

The largest capital improvement project, the correctional center expansion and new juvenile detention center, is being financed by a combination of 20-year bonds and Bank of North Dakota loans, as is the courthouse dome.

Commissioners have allocated $3 million, largely from leftover funding from the American Rescue Plan Act, for the most critical repairs to the parking ramp, although AE2S Engineering has put the total repair cost at $3.6 million in its latest estimate.

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“What we can afford will drive that project,” Ford said. “Anything beyond that, we will simply have to spread and budget annually.”

Inflationary pressures have made construction significantly more expensive than when these projects were still in pre-planning.

Ford said that in 2019 or 2020, the county pegged the cost of all capital improvements — including minor costs such as replacing outdated boilers at the detention center — at about $40 million.

It’s not immediately clear how the county will pay for a new or renovated space for the sheriff’s office, which was recognized as a “multi-million dollar project” back in 2019.

As the Herald reported last week:

Most of the county’s construction financing is tied up in bond and loan payments

towards the correctional center and courthouse dome for the next decade.

Without significant cuts elsewhere or a significant increase in property tax values, the county will have about $3 million to spend on a sheriff’s office.

Commissioners could also ask voters to increase the amount of property taxes they can levy, or pass a half-cent sales tax in a referendum.

like the one that failed

in 2022.

Ford has said he is confident the sales tax would have provided enough funding to address all of the county’s capital improvement projects, but he also said he doesn’t see much enthusiasm among commissioners for another referendum.

“I don’t think there’s much appetite at this point for the committee to go back to the people,” he said. “They haven’t talked about it, I can tell you that.”

Feland has said the city could charge the county rent for the sheriff’s office space sometime in 2026 if the county cannot come up with a long-term plan to relocate; the city wants to start renovating that space in 2026.

However, Ford and Feland have both said they expect their counterparts to operate in good faith.

“We are reasonable people and we are going to work with the province,” Feland said. “We just don’t want an indefinite timeline, and I think the province has responded to that, which is a fair and reasonable request.”

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