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County approves money for mental health center offices

WORTHINGTON -- Nobles County Commissioners on Tuesday approved a $500,000 contribution to Southwestern Mental Health Center's plans for a new facility in Worthington, but not before suggesting the organization consider the potential in renovating the Avera Medical Clinic downtown and utilizing that space.

The clinic has announced plans to build a new facility on Ryan's Road, with completion targeted for spring 2013, leaving the existing location vacant.

"My concern is having a perfectly good building vacated and investing in a new building," said Commissioner Bob Demuth.

SWMHC director Scott Johnson said the site had been among nearly a dozen options looked at during the course of the last four or five years.

"We haven't looked real hard (at the facility)," Johnson said. "I don't know, over the long haul, whether that would be a good option or not. It certainly is a larger building than we would need."

The SWMHC is proposing up to a 14,000-square-foot building, to be located next to the Unity House on the former Central School property in downtown Worthington. The clinic -- if the older portion would be removed -- offers approximately 20,000 square feet of space.

"The clinic (space) would be twice the building and considerably cheaper than building new," said Commissioner Vern Leistico, adding that they could perhaps renovate the building and still spend less than it would cost for new construction.

Commissioner David Benson said the SWMHC building project discussion has been a "long, strange trip," and the agency's board has "left no stone unturned."

"Scott knows that we really need to vacate the current building," said Benson. SWMHC offices are currently housed next to Sanford Regional Hospital, however, the lease ran out and the hospital has been waiting for them to vacate the building.

"I'd like to say that the Avera building would be a good option ... but, there are so many uncertainties with it," Benson continued, offering concerns about the building's energy efficiency, roof, and heating/ventilation/air conditioning (HVAC) system. He said the Avera space may be more suited for the development of a regional treatment center.

"I think with some teamwork in the region, that building could serve a couple of those purposes," Benson said, adding that he'd like to move ahead with the plans to build a new office for SWMHC.

"The idea, when Central School came available, was to have a campus-type setting," added Commissioner Marv Zylstra. "I hate to see a vacant building, but I think there's a use for (the clinic)."

Johnson said the SWMHC board will meet Wednesday night, and will discuss the clinic building at that time.

In other action, the county board:

* Classified three tax-forfeited parcels - one each in Lismore, Adrian and Worthington - as non-conservation parcels. This will allow the property to be sold in the future.

* Identified two bridges, one on CSAH 18, just west of CSAH 3 in Graham Lakes Township and the other on a township road in Section 36 of Hersey Township, as priority bridges for replacement, and signed a resolution authorizing them for state funding eligibility.

* Approved a report issued by the Traffic and Safety Committee regarding a speed study conducted at the intersection of Nobles County 10 and CSAH 35, near Worthington Middle School. The county will implement suggested safety features during road reconstruction efforts in 2012, including installation of flashing LED-lighted signs for the crosswalk.

* Approved a 2-year snow removal contract with Greg Gruis of Rushmore to clear the parking lot areas at the Nobles County Government Center and library.

* Approved a request from Lincoln-Pipestone Rural Water to reissue bonds so it can lock in a 3 percent rate for 40 years.

* Approved an enterprise agreement with the state for continued Internet connectivity, as well as band-width for telephone and video, at a rate of $700 per month.

* Approved a 5-year extension of a lease between the county and the Okabena-Ocheda Watershed District for office space in the public works building.

* Approved a fourth quarter appropriation to RSVP of $7,239.

* Approved an agreement with Worthington Public Utilities to share fiber optic cable.

* Approved a trail agreement with the Frosty Riders and accepted a snowmobile trail maintenance grant of $40,015.80, which will pass through to the Frosty Riders.

* Approved a grant between Nobles County Human Services and the Minnesota Department of Health to process Minnesota Care applications at a rate of $30 per application.

* Approved an $84,500 grant between Nobles County Human Services and the Minnesota Department of Health and Human Services for child and teen checkups.

* Appointed Commissioners Marv Zylstra and Diane Thier to serve as voting delegate and alternate to the Minnesota Counties Intergovernmental Trust. The two were also appointed to work with staff during union negotiations.

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at

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