UNDER ONE ROOF
It has been a long time in coming, but last week Steele County residents finally got a look at the new Steele County Public Works building in Owatonna.
It was in 2010 that flooding severely damaged the county’s highway maintenance building on Hoffman Drive. Since that time, the public works department has been operating out of the Steele County Annex.
Finally, after nearly a decade of planning and construction, all operations of the Public Works Department are together in one building, and the public was invited to tour the facilities.
The open house was held Oct. 7 and a steady stream of visitors stopped by to take a look at the building and also the trucks and plows and other equipment housed there. Tours were given to groups of visitors by county officials.
The new building, which has a footprint of about 37,000 square foot, puts all the administrative, engineering and maintenance operations under one roof, said Alan Forsberg, an engineer and the former interim director of the Steele County Highway Department. Forsberg was one of those leading the guided tours through the building.
The facility is as much a machine as a building, Forsberg said, and the building is very energy efficient. For example, he said, the lights will automatically adjust for the amount of light shining through the windows. That natural light is prominent, he said, as even the overhead doors to the equipment bays have windows.
The building meets stringent state energy and recycling standards, county officials said.
Visitors got a look at the office areas but also the equipment bays where the county trucks are housed, the area where vehicles are maintained and repaired and a lab where technicians can test materials like gravel and concrete and calculate the correct “recipe” for the bituminous.
There is even an area where an employee can make the road and street signs that are needed by the county.
In the maintenance bay, an overhead crane allows heavy equipment like snowplows to be easily attached to the truck. Two mechanics are employed to keep the equipment in top shape, Forsberg said.
Perhaps because visitors were anticipating winter weather the snow plows and graders seemed to be attracting considerable attention.
The county has about a dozen trucks, he said, and two motor graders.
During the winter months, there are actually three plows attached to each truck along with a sander on the back. Tanks are also attached to the trucks for the brine that is applied to the road. The brine, he said, means less salt is needed.
The skill level to operated a snowplow is high, he said, as the operator must not only be able to drive the vehicle, but also operate three plows, the sander and the computer that determines how much sand and brine is needed.
Since salt is not good for steel trucks, he said, they must often be washed. The salt water from the washing process goes into a pit and goes through sediment traps before the water goes into the sewer system, he said.
The building meets all the current needs for the county, officials said, but provisions were made for future expansion if needed.
In addition to the main building, the 45-acre site also includes a fuel system, sand and salt storage shed and a pole barn storage building.
Site work began in 2017 with the building construction started in the summer of 2018. The maintenance staff has been operating out of the building since spring with the administration and engineering staff moving in over the summer.