Fixing the house


L’ANSE – Baraga County took a major step forward in its plan for renovations at the County Courthouse and other government buildings Tuesday, when the county board passed a resolution offering the sale of bonds to raise up to $1.5 million to pay for the project.

The renovations will be focused on energy efficiency and include new heating and air conditioning systems for the courthouse, demolition of the outdated courthouse annex and minor upgrades to the Sheriff’s office and jail. Work is expected to begin in May.

The project is expected to pay for itself through energy cost savings, and consultants Honeywell Automation and Control Solutions, which is handling the project for the county, have made a guarantee to back up that expectation by making any payments energy savings can’t cover, board member Gale Eilola said after the meeting.

“It’s a no-brainer, the savings will make the payments on the bonds,” said board member William Menge.

The board had at one time considered abandoning the historic courthouse, which was built in 1884-85, and moving operations to the former Baraga County Memorial Hospital Building, but county voters rejected that proposal.

“People made it really clear they won’t lose this building,” Eilola said.

Menge noted the improvements would upgrade the building’s appearance as well as efficiency.

“We’ll make sure the plywood’s not there,” he said, referring to temporary fixes currently visible on the exterior of the courthouse.

Upgrades to the courthouse will include a new natural gas boiler to replace the decades-old boiler, which is located in the annex building and is the only reason the vacant building currently exists. There will also be added insulation, new windows, structural upgrades shoring up the courthouse attic, new rooftop air conditioning units, and new energy efficient lighting and plumbing fixtures, which will extend to the Sheriff’s Office and jail. The courthouse’s new heating and cooling systems will likely include a thermal exchange component.

Honeywell Government Market Leader Dick Williams told the board the new boiler should be put in this summer, with all heating work completed “before the snow flies.”

He said air conditioning systems would be finished next winter, and the end result would be a showpiece the county could be proud of.

“This whole hill is going to look really awesome when this project is done,” Williams said. “When people look up the hill it’s going to be a shining light.”

In other business Tuesday, the board received the county’s annual equalization report from Equalization Director Lora Osterman.

Total equalized 2014 property values for the county were $341.1 million, a decrease of 1 percent from 2013, but total taxable property values increased by 1 percent, to $242.8 million.

The greatest loss in equalized property values was in Arvon Township, where the total dropped 5 percent to $72.6 million. Covington Township property values increased 3 percent, to $31.4 million.

Osterman said the overall 1 percent drop in property values was less than expected.

“I expected it to be a lot worse, so I was pleasantly surprised,” she told the board.

Eilola said the county never likes to see property values decreasing, but agreed the news could have been much worse, and Menge noted the slight bump in taxable values was good news for the county.