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Panel ponders revamp of new Columbia County office space

July 10, 2018

One way or another, it looks like Columbia County will end up paying to fix the cramped space in the accounting offices of the new Health and Human Services Building.

How much it will cost is, so far, unknown, Columbia County Board Chairman Vern Gove told the County Board’s Executive Committee on Monday.

“But if they’re not right, the offices need to be fixed,” Gove said.

Gove said he has met with architects from the Janesville-based firm Angus-Young Associates, who have tentatively indicated that reconfiguration of furniture might go a long way to solving the problems of workspaces so tight that workers can’t turn their chairs around in them, and corridors so narrow they pose problems for a wheelchair user.

In December, Ron Locast of the Madison-based design firm Potter Lawson — who was the principal architect for the new Health and Human Services and Administration buildings, on opposite sides of the Portage Canal — told the County Board’s Ad Hoc Building Committee that the footprint for the HHS accounting office space was the size that county officials had agreed to, and the width of the corridors complies with the standards of the Americans With Disabilities Act.

If the space seems cramped, he said, it’s likely because a ninth workspace was added, when original plans called for eight workspaces.

Columbia County Corporation Counsel Joseph Ruf said the issues with the workspaces could likely be resolved by giving accounting employees more surface space for the papers that they need to spread out, while reconfiguring the cubicles to allow more maneuverability within them.

Also, he said, a storage cabinet that current blocks employees’ views of the front counter should be mounted onto a wall, to give an unobstructed view when customers come in.

“A lot of it is reorganizing — moving stuff around to get a little extra space,” he said.

The county’s $46 million building project is already about $500,000 over budget, Gove said.

For any work needed to reconfigure the HHS accounting space, Ruf said, county officials might have to dip into a fund set aside in the county’s budget for things such as capital improvements and furniture.

On the whole, Gove said, he is very pleased with the design of the new county buildings and the remodeling of the courthouse for court-related uses only.

The Executive Committee was not asked to make any decisions regarding the accounting offices Monday. The matter is on the agenda for the County Board’s Finance Committee, which is scheduled to meet at 8 a.m. Thursday in room 115 of the Admin Building, 112 E. Edgewater St.

In another matter, the Executive Committee voted to pay sculptor Dan Schmidt $10,000 for the design, fabrication and installation of three nearly life-size sculptures of blue herons, displayed on the main level of the HHS Building, 111 E. Mullett St.

In May, the panel had opted to delay the payment, pending answers to questions about liability, should the sculptures — two of which are suspended from the ceiling — fall and injure anyone.

Ruf said the contract now clarifies that Schmidt agreed to a one-year warranty on the installation.

“For a year, it’s his problem,” Ruf said. “After a year, it’s our problem.”

Not necessarily, said County Board First Vice Chairman Dan Drew of the town of Pacific. If an injury incurred after a year can be shown to have been caused by faulty installation, then it’s likely the artist could be at least partly liable.

However, Drew said he was satisfied with the revised contract because “the guy is not asking for permanent immunity.”

County Board Second Vice Chairman Jim Foley of the town of Leeds, who cast the only vote against authorizing the payment, noted that the agreement is dated in April, which means the one-year warranty would actually expire about nine months from now.

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