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Kittson SWCD addresses office space concerns, again

By Anna Jauhola
The Kittson Soil and Water Conservation District expressed concerns about upcoming renovations during the regular Kittson County Commissioners meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 16. SWCD Board member Joe Wilebski reminded the commission the SWCD office and board has been asking for additional space since 2016. He said he’s disappointed in how the commission has repeatedly kicked the requests down the line.
The SWCD office sits in the southeast corner of the courthouse and is a cramped space. In recent years, the courthouse boiler room has been out of commission and SWCD has asked to renovate that space to provide additional room for the four employees.
“As a board member, I challenge you to come down and sit down at a couple of the work stations,” Wilebski said. “Have somebody talking to you and see how it interrupts you when you’re trying to do business.”
Wilebski noted there’s no room for privacy for those who have to fill out program information nor for employees working on projects.
A lack of communication and rumor mill also fueled Wilebski’s complaints last week. SWCD District Manager Jamie Osowski said they’d heard Two Rivers Watershed District asked for more space also and that SWCD was only told any renovation for their office would only cover demolition. CFO Shirley Swenson said nothing has been done in that regard for the watershed office, nor has the watershed come to the building committee. Commissioner Leon Olson said he spoke with the watershed office recently and told them if they need more space, now is the time to discuss it while the county is working on bonding for renovations.
But, Wilebski and the board, along with SWCD employees, are most upset about the huge delay in creating more space for their office. He noted the contributions the SWCD makes through conservation and improvement programs, including bringing over $1 million into the county over the last five years. He added the board has offered financial support to renovate the boiler room because the SWCD office is in such dire need of extra space with items stored in five different spots in the courthouse, and crammed working conditions.
“Joe, I just want to say we have been working on it,” said Commissioner Ryan Swenson. “We met down there this summer, looked at the office, looked at the boiler room. We’ve had Johnson Controls come and do their (facility improvement measures) study. It’s in the process. The asbestos was the first to be done. We had to get on our bond and get it finished up and decide what we’re going to do all together.”
Commissioner Nathan Kraulik added they know the SWCD office is cramped. The bonding process is long, but will include all courthouse renovations such as new piping for heating, ventilation and air conditioning, better use of the former boiler room, lighting and other components.
The commission is set to have a workshop on Tuesday, Jan. 23 with Johnson Controls during which they will discuss further plans for the courthouse and highway department renovations. The following week, on Tuesday, Jan. 30, the board is supposed to have a workshop discussing bonding for the project. These workshops are open meetings, so anyone can attend. But, the commission cannot vote on any issues. They are for information only.

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