The last time Columbia County officials celebrated the building at 400 DeWitt St., the party had to be moved indoors because of brisk temperatures and snow flurries.
That was Nov. 4, 1962. Once the crowd got inside the recently completed structure — characterized, in a Portage Daily Register headline, as the “beautiful county building” — the keynote speaker, Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Thomas E. Fairchild, declared the administration building and courthouse was “the symbol of the principles of government which are fundamental to our way of life.”
Nearly 56 years later, Columbia County Board Chairman Vern Gove of Portage said he’s hoping for at least as big a celebration for the completion of Columbia County’s $45.51 million building project, the biggest by far in county history.
At Monday’s meeting of the County Board’s Executive Committee, Gove appointed himself as chairman of an Ad Hoc Open House and Ribbon Cutting Committee.
Besides Gove, the committee includes:
- Columbia County supervisors Susanna Bradley of the town of Caledonia, Dan Drew of the town of Pacific, Matt Rohrbeck of Portage and Andy Ross of Poynette.
- County elected officials, including County Clerk Susan Moll, Clerk of Court Susan Raimer and Circuit Court Judge W. Andrew Voigt.
- Representatives of various county departments, including Shonna Neary of the Accounting Department, Katie Day of the Department of Health and Human Services, Building and Grounds Director Cory Wiegel and Aging and Disability Resource Center Director Becky Mulhern.
Because he wants to hear ideas from others on the committee, Gove said, he’s refraining from sharing any of his ideas for how to mark the building project’s completion.
Tentatively, however, he said he hopes to schedule a one-day event on a Saturday in August.
Gove said he wanted to wait on a dedication ceremony for the remodeled courthouse and the two new buildings along the Portage Canal until those buildings’ occupants had an opportunity to settle into their new workplaces.
“I think this is very important, that this be a big deal,” Gove said. “It’s history-making.”
Employees of Columbia County Circuit Court and the Child Support, District Attorney, Clerk of Courts and Register in Probate offices are scheduled to move into the remodeled courthouse May 30 and 31.
After that, the interior of the Health and Human Services Building at 111 E. Mullett St. — the temporary location of court-related offices for the last 10 months — will need slight remodeling to accommodate Health and Human Services offices, which will be moved from 2652 Murphy Road sometime in July.
When the new Administration Building at 112 E. Edgewater St. opened in June 2017, Gove said he planned to hold off on a major celebration related to the building project until the project was finished.
At that time, to accommodate court-related offices, the remodeling of the courthouse had not yet started.
However, the first County Board meeting held in the Administration Building on June 21, 2017, featured pre-meeting refreshments (including a cake), tables and chairs on the enclosed walkway across the Portage Canal, guided tours, a flag ceremony and a keynote speech by Mark Aquino of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
One thing Gove said he wants for the August dedication is participation from all the county’s American Legion posts. Veterans Service Officer Richard Hasse said he would ask Legion officials to participate.
“I’ve got some ideas,” Gove said of the dedication ceremony, “but I want everybody to be included in this.”