County board OK’s courthouse repairs

HOUGHTON – The Houghton County Board of Commissioners approved nearly $125,000 in courthouse maintenance costs Tuesday, while also hearing ideas from a consultant about ways to upgrade courthouse security.

Recommendations for work submitted by U.P. Engineers & Architects are $57,782.50 for replacing windows in the courthouse, $21,398 for restoring sandstone and $7,390 in parking deck repairs.

“Some of the items on this list are going to be major if we don’t do something quick,” said Chair Albert Koskela. “That spalling, and the building’s crumbling. The longer we wait, the more it’s going to cost.”

The repairs are part of a five-year timetable for repairs recommended by UPEA.

“I really encourage the county and the board to come up with a means of funding maintenance projects every year, because this is an old building and it needs to be taken care of,” said Karin Cooper, project architect for UPEA.

The last significant maintenance expense at the courthouse was repair to the roof nine years ago, said Controller Eric Forsberg.

Commissioner Tom Tikkanen said while he supports the courthouse repairs, he had only been informed of the current proposal a few days before the meeting.

“I respectfully ask that the county board be involved with considerations as these plans go forward, which involve a major expenditure from our reserve,” he said.

The board also heard from Dennis MacDonnell, a trial court security specialist for the state, who presented security recommendations. MacDonnell had visited the court before in 2009, to conduct a security audit of the building and look at probate and district court from security perspective.

After walking through the courthouse again Tuesday, he said additional inside locks need to be installed in some locations.

MacDonnell recommended going from three entrances to a grand entrance that could accommodate security screening, he said.

“We know where the potential threat could come in with that entrance, versus any one of the three entrances here,” he said.

Ideally, he said, that would include staffing, and a metal detector, which would cost about $3,500. More expensive are X-Ray machines and a magnetometer, which would require an observer, he said.

He also suggested the district court install a barrier or separate tables in district court for the defense and prosecution, which sit facing each other at one table.

“They could read each other’s notes,” he said.