The Flathead County Commission voted two to one to approve the purchase of the vacant former CenturyLink building in Kalispell at its July 7 meeting. The building is intended to address space issues among numerous county departments.
“I take my job seriously as one of the three commissioners. We are to look at the needs in our county and find solutions,” said Commissioner Phil Mitchell. “This is a good solution for space needs at a reasonable cost to our taxpayers.”
Mitchell was the driving force behind the most recent six-month-long study into the needs among county departments. It was the fourth such study conducted since 2003. While eight potential sites were looked at, focus over the last few years has centered on the potential purchase of the former CenturyLink building located at 290 N. Main St., 10 blocks from the main county campus.
To showcase the expanding needs of the county, he pointed to a recent hire in the Environmental Department who was working out of the Planning Department office, due to lack of space.
With the new premises, an additional half dozen departments will receive much needed attention.
The building purchase will cost approximately $720,000, which will be followed by a $3.8 million remodel, according to the conceptual project plans provided by Cushing Terrell, the architecture firm hired to do the renovation.
The renovations will include improving or replacing most of the exterior, including the roof. The interior will be refinished and reconfigured to fit the needs of relocated department offices, as well an elevator upgrade and a new loading area. A total replacement of the mechanical system and upgrades to the electrical and plumbing engineering systems are also included in the budget.
Once the remodel is completed, the “Courthouse North” will fix space issues via the partial or complete relocation of several county departments: Department of Motor Vehicles, Treasury, Accounting, Election, Information Technology, Superintendent of Schools and Family Court Services
A congruent remodel to Courthouse West, to begin next year, and to the Justice Center, which is slated to start in 2022, will address the space needs of Justice and District courts, bringing the total estimated project costs to just over $6.8 million.
Planning documents show that construction at Courthouse West will include two new courtrooms, staff office space and temporary holding cells to facilitate the relocation of the Justice Court System.
The remodel to the Justice Center will include converting two small Justice Court courtrooms into a larger District Court courtroom, which will accommodate a new judge for the county. There will also be minor changes to support staff offices.
The IT department will be split between the South Campus building and the new North Campus building, which will address the flooding problems in its current basement office.
The new building also has 67 parking spots, which is an additional need the county must address, as a previous study has shown that county parking lots are consistently near capacity.
“This has been a very long project, and I’m very proud of it,” said Mitchell. “It’s unbelievably inexpensive to fulfill all the needs of everything in the county, except for the jail, for 10 to 15 years and these needs are now.”
Commissioner Pamela Holmquist, who voted against the purchase, has previously spoken out against any expansion project that doesn’t address the needs of the jail.
“I just hope the county doesn’t wait until we’re in crisis again to address the detention facility,” she said. “I sincerely hope that this works out well for all departments that are moving.”
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