By Warren Strandell – Polk County Commissioner, District 2
On the wall behind the center chair at the front of the County Board meeting room hangs a framed copy of the dedication program for the then new Polk County Courthouse.
That was on June 27, 1969, which was 50 years ago.
The name of the building, which is still as sound as the Rock of Gibraltar, has been changed to the Polk County Government Center. Renaming occurred after District Court was moved to the new Polk County Justice Center when that building opened in 2008. The move ended any reference to “courthouse.”
Besides District Court, the Justice Center, which is now already 11 years old, houses the 200-bed Northwest Regional Corrections Center jail and Probation Department, both of which are operated by the Tri-County Community Corrections agency. Also re-located there in 2008 was the Polk County Attorney’s Office. Polk County Public Health moved into the building as a part of a remodeling project a few years ago.
Despite 50 years of use — actually it is a bit more than that because construction of the “courthouse” was completed in late 1968 — the “Government Center” is more than functional and still has a long life ahead. The building’s heating and cooling systems have recently been updated. So has the lighting. As needs and uses changed over the years there have also been a series of remodeling projects. The roof is showing signs that it will need some attention but replacement is on the maintenance schedule.
Everything is in really good shape… well, that’s except for the elevator, which has hiccupped a few times, most recently with a county employee aboard. The telephone in the elevator telephone didn’t work then, too, but there was nothing to worry about as it concerned safety. But now, after 50 years it is time for replacement and that process is underway.
After that recent incident, County Building & Grounds Director Mark Dietz sent out this email message to staff.
All: Many of you may have heard of the elevator malfunction earlier today. The carriage stopped short, did not fully close the inside doors and did not open while someone was inside. While we have worked to keep the elevator functioning, we’ve reached a point where this requires more serious remedies. We’ve already had two incidents this year.
Dietz noted that the problem centers on the old electrical control system and that there might likely be some truth to the story that this control system wasn’t new when it was installed in 1958. Word is that, in an effort to reduce construction costs, it had been salvaged from another building beforehand.
While the elevator now works just fine virtually all of the time, riders are being encouraged to have their cell phones with them just in case. And Dietz has taken action to have the elevator turned off and unavailable to anyone who might be in the building during non-regular office hours.
Taking care of county buildings, whether with something like the elevator problem or a leaky roof, is a concern that is always right up there at the top of the list of things that have to be done. In that regard, Polk County is in really good shape. Buildings are taken care of either on schedule or when they come up out of nowhere.
Remodeling of the Human Service Center building in East Grand Forks where additional space was created for the Northwest Mental Health Center was the most recent building upgrade. Additional work in that building is also planned through next year to upgrade the heating and cooling systems, to re-roof the building, and to do some other less extensive remodeling for other needs and uses.
After 18 years of county ownership, this work will set the building up for many more years. Before Polk County acquired it in 1999, the building had been home to the Maury’s TV & Appliance store after having been built initially in the 1970s for Warehouse Foods.
The other recent projects include $24.5 million solid waste program improvements. These include expansion of the material recovery facility (incinerator) in Fosston, construction of the new transfer station in Crookston, and creation of the compost pad at the Polk County Landfill near Gentilly.
These projects give Polk County what is likely the best solid waste disposal/recycling program in the state of Minnesota and none of the cost this work is ever going to show up on your property tax bills. Grants paid for $17.5 million of the work. Tipping fees will pay for the $7 local share… and tipping fees haven’t been increased as a result.
Other work in recent years has involved conversion of the old jail into expanded space for the Sheriff’s Department and for a new Dispatch Center. Space was also created in the Law Enforcement Center for Information Technology Department offices and for the “server room” where all of the data technology is based.
What could be a better location for this data than in a building that was constructed to be a jail and which houses the county’s law enforcement agency.
Other recent projects include the creation of a satellite office for the Sheriff’s Department in Fosston and the development of an east county base for the Social Services in the Bjella Building in McIntosh.
Buildingswise, things are good. When any unplanned issues come up, they get immediate attention.
Now, for history buffs, back to that 1969 courthouse dedication event and the wall hanging in the County Board room:
The dedication was held outside in the parking lot that had been created after the old courthouse, built in 1914, had been razed. The Fosston High School Band played the Star Spangled Banner. Polk County Veterans Service Officer Harry McFarlin raised the flag. Honorable Judge Harley Swenson served as master of ceremonies. Crookston Mayor Harold Thomforde gave the welcome. Monsignor A. I. Merth of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in East Grand Forks did the invocation. And Oscar R. Knutson, chief justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court, was introduced prior to remarks that were given by Dean Witcher, the contractor, and by Cecil Griffith, the architect.
Keys to the new building were presented to Orris Moen, Fertile, who was chairman of the County Board. Other commissioners then were Hillard Mykleby, Eldred; Alfon Hanson, Crookston; Olaf Enerson, Fosston; and Viggo Nelson, East Grand Forks. Martin Vanseth, the county auditor and clerk of the board, had served as chair of the program committee.
Do you remember any of them or those names? If not, it was 50 years ago.
Thoughts for the day:
In general, the art of government consists of taking as much money as possible from one part of the citizenry to give to the other. — Voltaire (1764)
The ultimate distinction of greatness is determined by the amount of excellence over and above the required.
Disclaimer: Thoughts expressed in this column are those of the author and are not necessarily a reflection of the opinions of the other members of the Polk County Board of Commissioners