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St. Louis County ready to build in Virginia, Cook

A rendering of the new $22.3 million government services center slated to be built in downtown Virginia. (Image courtesy of St. Louis County)1 / 2
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St. Louis County commissioners on Tuesday set off on a new wave of construction, approving a plan to borrow millions of dollars over the next five years to build new or shore up existing projects.

The county board unanimously approved selling up to $46 million in bonds, paid back over time, to pay for the new $22.3 million government services center in downtown Virginia, a $28 million public works garage in Cook and other projects.

At a public hearing held before the vote no one testified against the spending.

In all, the county has identified nearly 300 projects costing $266 million needed over the next five years, including $8 million to fix up the historic Depot in downtown Duluth.

An estimated $178 million in county road and bridge projects planned over the five years are eligible for federal and state funding and also get money from the county's transportation sales tax. Other construction projects could be paid for out of general taxes, state grants and other resources. For example, the county is asking the state of Minnesota for $5.75 million of the Depot fix which includes repairs, deferred upkeep and upgrades for the 113,000-square-foot former train depot built in 1892.

The new Cook public works "campus" will combine the existing Cook truck garage and most of the county's Linden Grove garage operations. Offices at the site on County Road 115 north of town will house 32 Public Works employees as well as employees from other county agencies, including the sheriff's office and Lands and Minerals Department.

The garage facility will house 22 dump trucks and graders with a salt- and sand-storage facility on site.

The $28 million cost includes $2.3 million already spent on the 77-acre property. The land had been owned by the city of Cook and Disability Specialists, a nonprofit company, The office building on the site will be retained and refurbished, said Jim Foldesi, the county's public works director.

In Virginia the county is closing one block of First Street between Third and Fourth avenues west to make room for the new government services center. Plans call for a 63,000-square-foot facility that would consolidate county offices for 15 different departments. The county first will begin tearing down the old Northland Office Center where many of the its services are now housed.

Bids for the project will be advertised later this month and construction should begin after winter, Tony Mancuso, the county's director of property management, told county commissioners Tuesday in Duluth.

The new building would be constructed in what is now a county parking lot, across from City Hall and the historic county courthouse. After approval in October by the Virginia City Council the new building will extend into what is now First Street, and a pedestrian plaza is planned to connect all of the government buildings in the immediate area. A parking lot would go where the Northland Office Building now stands.

Other projects now listed on the county's five-year capital improvement plan include $4 million for the county's landfill in Virginia, including $1.8 million this year to start work on a new cell. The county also is eyeing a new public works campus to merge the existing and aged Embarrass and Tower garages, Foldesi said, with $5 million listed for the project starting in 2022.

"The Embarrass garage is truly embarrassing," Foldesi said. "It doesn't have running water. It still has an outhouse."