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Jackson County considers new highway dept. facilities

A diagram of the old highway department facility in Jackson, taken from the Facility Study & Proposal by Bob Sworski of Short Elliott Hendrickson, Inc.1 / 2
A diagram of a proposed new highway department facility in Jackson, taken from the Facility Study & Proposal by Bob Sworski of Short Elliott Hendrickson, Inc.2 / 2

JACKSON -- An architectural firm advised Jackson County commissioners to build new highway department facilities in Jackson and Lakefield to the tune of $7.6 million Thursday during a county board work session.

"It really is for the public, so we can plow more miles more quickly," said Tim Stahl, Jackson County Highway Engineer. "A new shop would help us provide a better service for the community."

Short Elliott Hendrickson Inc. (SEH) provided an extensive facility study and proposal for the new buildings, which included an analysis of the existing condition of the facilities, an examination of the cost of renovating those facilities, a study of plow routing and efficiency and recommendations regarding eight rebuilding or remodeling scenarios.

Facility study and proposal

Some of the existing main highway department buildings in Jackson were built during World War II as a hemp processing factory, and consist of several buildings spread out over 10 acres of land, states the facility study.

Due to limited space, some equipment is stored outdoors, where it wears out more quickly. Because of the buildings' layout, county employees spend a lot of time moving equipment in order to gain access to other equipment. Spaces are narrow, long, and equipment is larger than will easily fit. Additionally, many of the concrete blocks forming the walls of the outbuildings in Jackson are disintegrating, and they do not contain insulation.

The highway department's facilities in Jackson do not meet the Americans with Disabilities Act requirements or those of the Uniform Building Code, and they also include components not compliant with Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards.

The Lakefield site is simply not large enough for the county's operations, according to the facilities study.

Renovating both facilities fully, and adding onto them to the extent the county needs, would cost approximately $6.19 million, SEH found.

Analyzing options

Eight options for dealing with the Highway Department issues were examined in the facilities study.

- Do nothing.

- Combine facilities into a single shop in Jackson. SEH analyzed plow routes and discovered closing the Lakefield site would result in more than 115 additional miles of "deadheading" -- plows running without their blades down just to get to their routes -- and cost the county more than $532,000 over 20 years.

- Combine facilities into a centrally located shop. SEH pointed out this would cause an additional 104 deadhead miles and cost the county $560,000 over 20 years.

- Put the main shop in Lakefield and a satellite shop in Jackson. The highest density of county roads and plow routes is in the southeast corner around Jackson, and moving the main shop to Lakefield would thus increase deadheading.

- Combine the Jackson shop with the City of Jackson Public Works at the industrial park. This move would result in an overall increase of deadheading, costing the county an additional $64,320 per year, and airport safety zone requirements could impact the site.

- Retain the two-shop configuration and put more vehicles in Lakefield. SEH recommended this option. The shop would need to be moved to a 120-acre site east of Lakefield because the existing site is too small, SEH stated, and also recommended storing six or seven plows there rather than the five at the current Lakefield site.

- Add a facility at Heron Lake. Instead of adding a facility, SEH recommended adding a truck and driver to the Lakefield facility to improve the level of service to the Heron Lake area.

- Shared-use opportunities. The city of Jackson was reportedly interested in discussing a joint facility.

SEH recommended considering a phased building program, but warned it would not allow the county to get cheaper prices on materials by buying in higher volumes and that it would cost the county more in inflation.

Considerations and technical advice

In his presentation on the facility study and proposal, Robert Sworski, a senior architect with SEH, explained the benefits and drawbacks of three different building construction systems -- post frame, pre-engineered metal building and precast. Sworski recommended precast, which would last twice as long and have the lowest operational and maintenance cost.

Over the 80-year-period constituting the life of the new facilities, Sworski estimated a cost savings of $2.6 million in reductions in time on the road, maintenance costs, and heating costs.

"(The existing Jackson facility) is phenomenally wasteful of energy," Sworski warned. "You're literally hemorrhaging money on this facility."

Two possible layouts for the new facility were offered for discussion.