Marquette County Board Chairman Bob Miller walked through the first-floor hallway of the Columbia County Administration Building, and mused, “It’s got that new-car smell.”
It should, for a little while anyway. The three-story structure at 112 E. Edgewater St. has been open for business for just a couple of weeks, and parts of it – like the room numbers, the departmental office signs and the bulletin board outside the County Board’s meeting room – still aren’t quite finished.
But Miller and other representatives of the Intercounty Coordinating Committee saw on Monday a state-of-the-art structure that addresses modern communication and accessibility standards, while still offering a taste of the past.
ICC is composed of officials from Columbia, Dodge, Green Lake, Jefferson, Marquette and Sauk counties.
Two days before the Columbia County Board was scheduled to hold its first meeting in its new chambers, the room – expanded, thanks to sliding walls – was the site of the monthly ICC meeting, which focused primarily on the journey that Columbia County officials have taken over the last several years to address long-term infrastructure needs.
The opening of the Admin Building is just one milestone on that journey.
Columbia County Board Chairman Vern Gove of Portage said other milestones are in the offing. The two-story Health and Human Services Building, on the other side of the Portage Canal at 111 E. Mullett St., is almost finished. And right after Independence Day, the county’s court-related offices will start moving to the HHS Building, which will be a temporary courthouse until the completion of a major remodeling project at the 55-year-old courthouse at 400 DeWitt St.
By next spring, Gove said, the courts should be back in the courthouse, and HHS employees should have moved to the new HHS Building from the current location at 2652 Murphy Road, in Portage’s industrial park.
“Our new building project is really something,” Gove said, by way of introducing the $45.51 million project.
On a tour of the building, some of the things the visitors saw included:
- The lower-level employee break room, with a door that opens to a canal-side patio.
- Several features that county department heads have wanted for a long time. For example, Veterans Service Officer Richard Hasse showed a room designed for confidential counseling for veterans, and County Clerk Susan Moll showed a secure area in her office for tabulating election results.
- A locker room, complete with showers, for county employees who bike or walk to work and want to change from active wear to business clothes.
- A conference room in the Planning and Zoning office, on the second floor, whose glass wall includes the back of the county logo, displayed in the atrium.
- Vintage photos of various parts of Columbia County, each one sponsored by a County Board member, to decorate the board room.
Beth Prochaska, executive vice president of the Madison design firm Potter Lawson, said the project was “a labor of love” for all Potter Lawson personnel involved, especially Ron Locast, who is the buildings’ principal designer.
She noted how the Admin Building’s punched windows, and the use of butter-colored “Portage brick” on the façade, echoed the industrial structures that used to line the Portage Canal, while creating an atmosphere of civic dignity.
And, when the HHS building is finally occupied by offices related to human services, she said, everything from its “warm earth tones” in the interior to its home-like exterior is designed to welcome people.
Gove said the building project has worked well in Columbia County because of a few things that he and others have learned from the process, such as:
- The importance of cooperation between the county, Potter Lawson and the construction manager, which is the Madison construction firm J.H. Findorff and Sons. “You’ve really got to work together,” Gove said.
- The vital role of county employees, and their buy-in to the project, which extended to pitching in when it came time to pack and move. “Our employees really took ownership in this building,” Gove said.
There were challenges, noted John Feller of Findorff.
Because the buildings are alongside the Portage Canal, he said, the water table at the construction site was higher than anticipated, necessitating de-watering devices.
And, while the construction was going on, the canal was dredged – a joint project of the county, the city of Portage and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
Columbia County Building and Grounds Director Cory Wiegel said employees that have canal views from their offices can sometimes see fish swimming in the canal.
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