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Dave Roepke, Published September 20 2011

Cass County nixes $50,000 bell-tower view

FARGO – How much is a close-up view of the historic bell tower that sits atop Cass County’s courthouse worth?

Not $50,000, Cass County commissioners decided on Monday in shooting down a proposal to add a window providing a vantage point of the tower perched above the 1904-built courthouse.

The window that would be needed in the roof of the $14.7 million addition being constructed west of the existing courthouse wasn’t part of the original design.

But in touring the new facility slated to be done by next summer, members of the county building committee were struck by the view of the bell tower from the third floor, said Commissioner Scott Wagner.

In backing a proposal to add the necessary $50,000 to build a window that would overlook the tower, Wagner compared the view to the courthouse rotunda.

“They could have built something substantially less,” Wagner said of county officials who approved the rotunda long ago, “but I’m glad they didn’t.”

Sheriff Paul Laney also favored the idea, saying it was a “view of history.”

“Sometimes we’re so afraid of making that bottom line,” he said. “What is that amount going to mean 50 years from now?”

Darrell Vanyo, chairman of the commission, said he would also vote for the bell-tower view if others were behind it, though he said it fell in a “gray area” – neither too cheap nor too expensive to either approve or dismiss out of hand.

The commission took a look at the potential view in a tour before the meeting, but it didn’t convince any of the other members. Ken Pawluk, Vern Bennett and Robyn Sorum all said they couldn’t support it.

“I was king of hoping it would be more impressive,” Pawluk said of the view.

In other action, the county delayed plans to build a $2.5 million sandbag warehouse and operation center near the Highway Department facility in West Fargo after Wagner raised concerns about the 12 percent fee the architect sought.

The typical design fee is 6 to 7 percent, County Administrator Keith Berndt said, but T.L. Stroh Architects would be working on a fast-track schedule to get the building done by flood season this spring. Berndt said the urgency requires using more contractors at once, which is why the fees are higher on the project.

Commissioners said they also wanted to hear about less-expensive alternatives for the facility, for which $1.8 million was set aside in the 2011 budget. The extra $700,000 would come from a delay on a highway project near Kindred.

Berndt warned that to get the building done in time, the county is already “on borrowed time,” but a decision on the building was tabled until the Oct. 3 meeting.

A 2012 budget calling for $76.9 million in spending was also passed Monday, a budget Berndt said was a 5 percent increase over 2011.

The county levy will go up 1.75 mills, which means $7.87 more in property tax on a $100,000 home, County Auditor Mike Montplaisir said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Roepke at (701) 241-5535