Editor's Note: An earlier version of this article used project estimates from county publications from 2018. The article has been updated with more up to date project costs.

With some ceremonial shoveling Wednesday, work officially began on Scott County's $66.5 million government center campus renovations.

The extensive build-out of the campus will add one new office building, a public works building and a parking lot and reconfigure several offices. It got the green light from commissioners in January 2018 after a study found government facilities didn't have enough room for staff even as the county needed more employees for its operations.

The state projects the county will have a growth spurt of 60,000 more residents in the next two decades, and the changes to the campus are meant to address the area's need for things like courtroom space and more centralized offices. 

County officials have been adamant that the building improvements will not increase local taxpayers' tab. Scott County Board Chairwoman Barb Weckman Brekke emphasized that point during the groundbreaking ceremony.

"What's even better is that Scott County taxpayers will not see an uptick in the tax levy for these capital improvements," she said.

According to County Administrator Lezlie Vermillion the county won't have to raise taxes for this project because over the next several years the they expect to be able to redirect funds currently used to pay other major costs to the campus project.

Since 2008 the county has been paying into a fund for the health insurance costs of retired employees. The fund — created as part of an employee benefits program that lasted until 1992 — is expected to be fully covered by 2021, at which point the county will redirect the annual contribution of $2.2 million to the debt service. 

The discharge of one bond and consolidation of another at a lower interest rate earlier this year has also freed up more funds for the project. Vermillion said the county anticipates that the lowering of another bond payment in 2029 will allow them to pay for future building work in cash. 

Covering the building costs is no small feat. Vermillion cited engineer estimates that place the project cost at $66.5 million. The administrator did note that that number included an added 5 percent contingency.

The latest information from county has the construction of the new building costing $41.06 million, renovations to the Government Center and Justice Center will coming in around $12.7 million and $6.2 million respectively, the addition of a warm storage facility landing at $3.06 million and parking and external work costing $3.01 million. 

The project was already a multimillion dollar endeavor prior to the ground breaking. The county hired Wold Architects and Engineers for $3.2 million to cover handle the space survey and design portion of the project.

The new building will be a three-story, 120,000-square-foot addition to the government center at the current site of the north parking lot.

It will consolidate numerous county offices under one roof, including the county attorney's office, community corrections office and law library. These operations are being shifted out of the Justice Center to create additional space for two more courtrooms. 

A parking lot update is also part of the government center costs. The county will demolish its conference center and an adjoining home to make room for a new surface lot. 

The warm-storage facility will add 15,000 square feet to the area available for equipment at the county's Public Works Facility in Spring Lake Township.

Construction is scheduled over three years. Weckman Brekke asked residents and staff for "patience and grace" during the inevitable stress the construction process will bring to daily operations. 

"This is an exciting and wonderful project, but the next two years are going to be hard," Weckman Brekke said. "They're going to be hard for staff as they do their jobs, it's going to be hard for citizens as they try to get in and out of here. ... So please stick with us. Remember the excitement and what we're going for here."

Shakopee Mayor Bill Mars lauded county officials and staff for addressing upcoming resident needs. 

"I think the important part is that this building is not a want but a need that will hopefully serve our community of Scott County for the next 20 years," Mars said. "I am proud of all the partners and the county board for planning for the future beyond yourselves."

Meg Britton-Mehlisch is a regional reporter covering Scott County for Southwest News Media.

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