Columbia County panel addresses report on new buildings’ glitches

August 2, 2018


Columbia County officials won’t “sweep under a rug” the shortfalls disclosed in a county supervisor’s report on the recently completed $46 million building project.

But what actions will be taken remain to be decided, said Supervisor Andy Ross of Poynette, chairman of the County Board’s Information Services and Property Committee.

“I want to spend a little more time on this,” Ross said at Wednesday’s committee meeting. “Whether it changes anything or not, I need to have a little more understanding. We need to look at and sort through this thing.”

The “thing” to which Ross referred is a report compiled by Supervisor Matt Rohrbeck of Portage, based on his unannounced visits to various county departments in December, to determine what was working, and what was not, in the new Administration Building at 112 E. Edgewater St. and the new Health and Human Services Building at 111 E. Mullett St. At the time of Rohrbeck’s visits, the HHS Building was being used as a temporary courthouse while the courthouse at 400 DeWitt St. was being remodeled.

Rohrbeck shared portions of his report at the July 18 County Board meeting.

He said he made the department visits, and compiled the report, after discussing the issue with Corporation Counsel Joseph Ruf. Rohrbeck said he did not act at the behest of any county elected official.

As Ross noted Wednesday, most of Rohrbeck’s report was positive.

“These are complex buildings. There’s just no two ways about it,” Ross said. “For every one of the things that went wrong, I bet there were 20 things that went right.”

The things that went wrong, according to Rohrbeck, fell mostly into two categories:

Electrical connections. Rohrbeck said he found that some departments had asked for in-floor electrical outlets, but didn’t get them, while at least one department that didn’t ask for in-floor outlets got them. When Rohrbeck visited departments that wanted in-floor outlets, he found extension cords connected, across walkways, to wall outlets.Furniture. Some departments still are waiting for the furniture they requested, while others claim to have received the wrong furniture.

Committee member Don DeYoung of Friesland had one question: “Who’s going to pay for this?”

DeYoung said he thinks any cost for making things right in the building project should be borne by either the design firm Potter Lawson, which managed the project, or the construction firm J.H. Findorff and Sons, which managed the construction. After the meeting, he clarified that he is not blaming either the recently-dissolved Ad Hoc Building Committee or county staff.

“We’re spending a lot of taxpayers’ money,” DeYoung said.

County Board Chairman Vern Gove of Portage said many of the problems outlined in Rohrbeck’s report already have been taken care of, such as issues with the buildings’ heating and cooling systems.

Also, Ross said, many of the departments that wanted in-floor electrical outlets but didn’t get them are addressing the problem by using power strips instead of extension cords. Ross said it’s unlikely that in-floor outlets will be installed in the offices where the workers wanted them but didn’t get them.

Ross concluded, “We do have great buildings, and the people who work here have a great place to be.”

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