MARINETTE — The first major work to be done on the former Marinette County Law Enforcement Center on Ella Court Street, that has been mostly empty since it was replaced by a new facility in 2003, could take place next year.

County Administrator John Lefebvre told the county board’s Infrastructure Committee on Wednesday that he would like to include funds in the county’s next budget to remove all the cells and jail apparatuses from the second floor and possibly to replace the roof and HVAC system.

“We would actually like to be able to take out all the jail cells and walls and open up the second floor,” he said. “That would be the minimum I would like to do next year. I say the minimum because there’s some other things in the works; we’re looking at possible other uses for the facility.”

Lefebvre said Facilities Director Marty Keyport has reached out to somebody he knows to determine the amount of money that would be needed for the project so  that it could be budgeted. 

“What we would do is go in and actually remove all of the jail cells and everything else related to the jail and open it up so we can build it out for office space,” he explained. “We need to make some use of that building in the year ahead and we can’t do that right now because nobody can visualize what that building actually consists of or how much room there actually is on that floor. The cells have to be removed.”

Lefebvre said the county will seek someone to remove the cells on the second floor, demolish it and get it opened, then we “can concentrate on finding a contractor and get a floor plan as to what we want built at later date and time.”

Supervisor Al Mans, committee chairperson, asked how much it would cost to demolish the second floor and remove the cells.

Lefebvre said that it was previously estimated that it would cost around half-million dollars to remodel the entire building. The first floor of the building is currently used for office space for three non-profit organizations and a wellness center for county employees.

Mans questioned how long it would take for the county to recoup the money it would need to spend for work on the building.

“it depends on who we’re putting in there, if we’re putting in a tenant that’s going to pay rent,” Lefebvre said. 

“That building costs us each day as we sit here,” Keyport said. “That building is costing us money to maintain. Part of my budget is to keep that building standing and keeping it as it is right now.”

Much the talk about the future of the building in recent years was the possibility of the City of Marinette relocating its city hall and police department in it.

Lefebvre said the office space would be of value noting that the the county could transform the courthouse annex into a justice center to resolve security  concerns and county offices could be moved into the now empty building. He also noted the child support agency needs more space and that the county is using other buildings locally, including a warehouse on State Street in Marinette.

“There is a lot of need for additional space,” he said. “That building isn’t going anywhere, it’s sat there vacant for 15 years with us doing nothing. The main reason we’re not doing anything with it is that the second floor is all jail cells. Nobody can visualize what we could turn that second floor into a decent office space.”

Lefebvre said “I’m just talking about putting it into the budget so you’re not surprised when you see it in there.”

He agreed with Supervisor Al Sauld that the replacement of the roof would likely have to be done in the same year as the demolition of the second floor.

Keyport said he opposes the option to tear down the building, saying all that would do is leave a dirt lot.

“We’re working on how much we’re thinking this demo is going to cost and how much for the roof,” Lefebvre said. “That’s what we’re going to put in the budget. I want it in next year’s budget.”

Mans asked where the money for the project is going to come from.

“We’ll figure out that when we get it into the budget,” Lefebvre replied.