Little space, many opinions

County officials weigh in on infrastructure

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GABE GREEN/Press Brandi Bain, a staff accountant in the Kootenai County Auditor's office, works at her desk Monday afternoon in the Kootenai County Administration Building on Government Way in Coeur d'Alene.

Kootenai County department heads are on the fence about costly structural improvements the commissioners are considering in a draft facilities master plan.

Although officials agree on the need for the recommended infrastructure overhaul, projected at roughly $36 million, some have doubts about the details.

"We do have to plan ahead and know where we're going to go in the future, so this master plan is a benefit," Treasurer Tom Malzahn said of the draft prepared by NAC Architecture, which calls for new buildings and consolidating operations on the main campus. "But is it appropriate in its form right now? From my opinion, no."

Malzahn acknowledged the parking demand at the Government Way campus, which the draft plan recommends fixing with a 6- or 8-level parking garage.

"The county's growing, and you know as well as I that on (busy) days parking is a premium," Malzahn said. "Do we need a parking structure? Probably some kind."

Malzahn said he is concerned, though, about the proposal to build-out the administrative building roof, where the Treasurer's Office would be relocated.

He worries the move would inconvenience the public, which is accustomed to his office being on the same level as the assessor's and auditor's offices, he said.

"The three offices work closely together, and folks who come in to visit the treasurer also come to visit the assessor or the auditor," he said. "Those three should be located on the same floor."

He admitted the relocation could better protect the Treasurer's Office from a robbery, though.

The current location is too exposed, confirmed by studies by multiple law enforcement agencies, Malzahn said.

"Where we are now is not the appropriate place to have a Treasurer's Office," he said.

Clerk Cliff Hayes said he would approve of the built-out roof, proposed as part of a $3.3 million building remodel.

That would provide much-needed office space in the administration building, he said.

Employees in his departments are working "on top of one another," he said.

"It does get in the way of them doing their jobs," Hayes said.

He was more tentative about the recommendation to remodel the building's bottom floor to create a single screened entrance.

"I would like to see the building secured," said Hayes, former Post Falls Police chief. "On the other hand, I cannot point to a history of any problems. That doesn't mean we're not going to have one, but I cannot point to one we've had."

The draft's recommendations for a multi-level parking garage and a new justice building are "a good idea, depending on how (the commissioners) pay for it," Hayes added.

He would recommend funding with a bond approved by the voters, he said.

"This is the commissioners' decision," he noted. "If two of them agree, it has nothing to do with me."

County Prosecutor Barry McHugh said he sees the benefits of the draft's proposal to build a $20.1 million justice facility at the main campus.

The structure would consolidate courtrooms, the public defender's office and the Juvenile Justice Center located downtown.

McHugh pointed out that holding some proceedings at the JJC, instead of at the main campus, is problematic.

"The courtrooms in the JJC are a challenge, just because they're remote, and so transporting the prosecutors, witnesses, from here to there is somewhat clumsy," said McHugh, whose office is located in the old courthouse on Garden Avenue. "It's not undoable, it's just inefficient."

His office has had to move some attorneys to the JJC, he added, so they can work in the same location where their court proceedings are held.

"That creates challenges in terms of managing people," McHugh said. "Making sure they're doing their job, and trying to keep track of their jobs, even from four blocks away, is a little bit inefficient."

The public defender's office on Northwest Boulevard, previously a pizza restaurant, isn't ideal for its current use, McHugh added.

His only hang-up is that a new justice facility "creates funding issues," he said. But he acknowledged the commissioners have promised to educate the community and seek a public vote.

"I'll let the commissioners handle that part," McHugh said of funding.

The county commissioners pursued a facilities master plan to assess the county's current and future structural needs.

They viewed NAC Architecture's PowerPoint presentation of the final draft last week.

The draft includes: a new justice center with connecting skyways to other buildings; a parking garage; an administration building remodel; and a relocated Building and Grounds facility.

The commissioners said the next step is rolling out the draft at a public meeting before voting on whether to adopt the plan.

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