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After about 10 months of remodeling, the Columbia County Courthouse is almost move-in ready.

The agenda for Thursday’s meeting of the County Board’s Ad Hoc Building Committee focused on finishing touches for the building at 400 DeWitt St. — closed since July for top-to-bottom renovations to accommodate the county’s court-related functions.

Tanner Davis of J.H. Findorff and Sons, the construction firm managing most of the county’s $45.51 million building project, told the panel the remodeling project is nearly complete, and the four courtrooms — a juried room for each of the three Columbia County Circuit Court branch judges, and a smaller non-juried hearing room — are done.

“They really are nice,” he said.

Because the renovation converted the nearly 56-year-old structure from a multi-purpose county administration building to a true courthouse, officials of the state’s Sixth Judicial District will have to approve of the court facilities before they can be used, said Judge W. Andrew Voigt.

Those officials are expected to inspect the court facilities on May 18, the same day that city of Portage officials will inspect the structure to ensure that its life-safety functions — heating, ventilation, cooling, plumbing, fire protection, etc. — are in working order.

The Wisconsin Department of Corrections also must sign off on the building, as must an architect from the Madison design firm Potter Lawson, to ensure that the structure was built in conformity with the plans that the Ad Hoc Building Committee approved.

Steve Klaven, Findorff senior project manager, said he is confident the structure will pass all the city-required inspections, and the city will issue a certificate of occupancy on May 18.

That’s well in advance of the scheduled move-in days, May 30 and 31, for the courts and the offices of the clerk of court, register in probate, district attorney and child support department. All these offices are temporarily located in the new Health and Human Services building, 111 E Mullett St.

When the committee wrapped up its meeting by setting a date for the next meeting — June 1 — the members left the meeting’s location open, because Voigt said he would like the panel to meet in the remodeled courthouse, if possible.

“I’ve got a hearing on June 1,” Voigt said, “so I hope we’re done then.”

Added committee member Barry Pufahl of Pardeeville, “It would be neat if we could go over there to meet.”

Voigt said he and County Board Chairman Vern Gove of Portage would issue a joint announcement soon about schedule changes in court-related offices to accommodate the move.

The committee made some decisions about some last-minute changes in the project, including:

  • Keeping a desk and bookcase that had been ordered for the district attorney’s office, but which will not be used — in the hope that some other county office might make use of the furniture.
  • Changing the height of the reception window at the DA’s office, which will be made of existing ballistic glass.
  • Adding tinting to existing windows on the building’s north side, on the first and second floors, to improve security.

The committee stopped short, however, of making a firm recommendation as to channels that employees should use if they want or need some changes in the courthouse after they’ve moved in.

Because Gove was not available Thursday for consultation, committee members preferred to hold off on officially recommending that all such requests be directed to Building and Grounds Director Cory Wiegel.

Committee Chairman Kirk Konkel of Portage said he would prefer to establish one contact — Wiegel — for employees who have issues with the remodeled building. Wiegel could then work with the designers, builders and subcontractors to address the issue, and determine whether any of the requested changes are covered by a warranty.

Konkel said there was no clear procedure for addressing employees’ issues in the new Administration Building, 112 E. Edgewater St., which opened in June, or in the HHS Building, where court-related offices were moved in early July.

Follow Lyn Jerde on Twitter @LynJerde

Portage Daily Register Reporter