The La Crosse County Building Boondoggle April 2, 2016
Bill Feehan

Shortly after I was elected to the La Crosse County Board in April of 2010 there was a “retreat” for board supervisors at what is today The Best Western Riverfront in La Crosse. The meeting room had several easels with artist’s conceptions of a new county office building. It was to be a new construction building on Lot C which is a parking lot across from the county court house. The projected cost was $16 million.

I spoke out forcefully against moving forward at that time because the county was still making debt payments on the current offices which were in the “old” law enforcement Center at 400 N. 4th Street. Those annual payments were $2.4 million per year or about 8.5% of the county’s annual property tax levy. My winning argument was that we should wait until these payments were completed before moving ahead with any plan for new offices.

Fast forward to a meeting of the  Administrative Center and Downtown Campus Study Committee chaired by Joe Veenstra. I spoke during the public comment period of the meeting and asked several questions.

  1. If the committee recommended building on Lot C what was the plan to replace lost parking spaces?
  2. Why was the cost of building a parking ramp not included in cost projections for the project?
  3. Were county employees endangered by the presence of asbestos in the current office building?
  4. Given that the current offices only occupied about 2/3 of the building wasn’t it possible to relocate county employees and remodel the existing office building?
  5. I also stated that Lot C was the most prime parcel of real estate in the city of La Crosse and it should be developed possibly by a hotel company into a mixed use to expand the tax base and generate new tax revenue.

Val Schute from River Architects made an amazing statement in response to a question regarding remodeling the existing building: yes it was possible to relocate and remodel within the existing space. At that statement by Schute, Veenstra said quite emphatically, “Well, that is the first time I have heard that!”

There is no record in the minutes of my having ever attended this meeting or any of the questions and answers which followed. That is a cover up. Tara Johnson and Steve O’Malley were in attendance and in fact Tara said to me before the meeting that she was “surprised” to see me there.

In conclusion the county has sold a building built in 1963 that was certified structurally sound for at least another 50 years for $250,000 after seeking bids for only 13 days (Minutes July 2, 2013). A building that was deemed 50% too big for the county’s space needs because it was 72,000 sq ft. and the county only needed 48,000 sq ft. (Minutes May 21, 2013)

They have purchased a building built in 1960 that also contains asbestos for $4.5 million. They must make an addition to that building because it is too small, and the Health and Human Services building bringing the total cost now to about $25 million.

The cost of a new parking ramp is still not included in the total cost of this project.

You can click on this link to verify the minutes of these meetings.