Eau Claire County officials are expected to be asked in February or March to authorize the purchase of approximately 42 acres of land for a new highway shop.
The site, currently owned by the state Department of Transportation, is located in the city of Eau Claire and town of Washington along U.S. 53.
The purchase price is about $8,300 an acre, or $383,719, according to information provided to the County Board’s Committee on Administration Tuesday.
“Eau Claire County has completed its site selection study and has identified this property to be the best value and location for possible future highway facility construction,” said county highway commissioner Jon Johnson in a fact sheet provided to committee members.
Consideration of a resolution authorizing the purchase of the site was pulled from the committee’s agenda, so contamination at the site could be addressed.
“The goal is to protect the county” from footing the bill for any necessary cleanup, said Keith Zehms, Eau Claire County corporation counsel, who anticipates a resolution authorizing the purchase of the property going to the County Board for consideration in the next month or two.
A highway facility space needs study from 2016 indicates the Highway Department facilities on Spooner Avenue in Altoona have $3.29 million of code compliance, life safety and structural repair cost needs.
The existing highway shop in Altoona is 53,000 square feet; however, to adequately store the department’s current fleet operations, the study calculated that the main shop needs to be 119,370 square feet.
The study concluded the existing 12-acre Altoona site is too small to house current operations and further investment, as well as expanding on the current site, isn’t in the county’s best interest.
To find a new home for highway facilities, 15 different properties were compared based on location near major highways, water and sewer service availability, size of 30 to 40 acres and cost of property, and the DOT site was found to provide the best value for Eau Claire County.
In other business Tuesday, the committee discussed proposed remodeling of the former County Board room on the Courthouse’s second floor for a sixth courtroom.
In a memo to committee members, County Administrator Kathryn Schauf indicated at a recent County Board meeting, a supervisor said it was the board’s understanding that a sixth courtroom would be built once the state verified a sixth judge was forthcoming.
The Legislature is expected to act on legislation approving additional judges later this year, according to the memo.
However, a new judge — if approved — wouldn’t be sworn in until 2020 at the earliest, people said Tuesday.
Eau Claire County Judge Michael Schumacher — one of five circuit court judges in the county — is requesting the build-out occur as soon as possible to accommodate the relocation of the existing judges and court commissioner.
Until a sixth judge was sworn in, Eau Claire County would be allowed a reserve judge one day per week to help with the existing judges’ workload, Judge John Manydeeds said, and the court commissioner could use the space the remainder of the week.
In government, you hear about doing more with less, Judge Jon Theisen said. However, he sees the county almost at a tipping point where less is going to get done with less.
“We are a busy, busy courthouse … ,” Theisen said. “We will not be doing justice if we’re doing less with less.”
“People — (both defendants and victims) — need to have their cases heard,” he said.
Design work for the project is 95 percent complete, according to Schauf’s memo. Funds have to be included in the 2019 budget to complete the project, and construction is estimated to take four to six months.
“If the money is in the budget and the design is there, I don’t know why we wouldn’t move forward with this,” Supervisor Colleen Bates said.
To make sure all supervisors are on board, Schauf and one or more of the judges will present a report at Tuesday’s County Board meeting.