County should move forward with Westboro highway shop plans
As Taylor County moves forward with plans to replace the Rib Lake highway shop with a new structure on Hwy 13 near the Westboro wayside, supervisors need to look beyond just the highway department’s immediate needs and have a facility that can serve multiple functions.
The existing Rib Lake shop needs to be replaced. The decaying metal buildings are becoming an eyesore due to their age. Given the lack of space at the location, it makes more sense for the county to sell that lot and build new elsewhere.
Building a new shop by the wayside makes sense from a space concern with room for equipment material storage freeing up space at the highway shop complex in Medford. It will also allow for the more efficient use of materials. Being able to reduce the travel time to get salt and sand when clearing roads will improve efficiency and save money over time.
Beyond the winter months, it also makes sense to have off-site storage of seasonal equipment. The highway equipment represents a significant investment in public funds and keeping this equipment secure and out of the weather will increase its longevity.
From a longterm view, it also makes more sense to put new buildings on the less commercially valuable land near Westboro than it does to continue to build them in the center of Medford’s Hwy 13 business district. Remote storage for seasonally-used highway equipment will also free up existing storage space for the sheriff’s and buildings and grounds departments.
There will be similar savings by moving some of the forestry equipment from Medford to the future shop. The county forest is located in the northeast corner of the county and the vehicle mileage and fuel used to haul equipment from Medford would be reduced if it were stored at the new shop building.
Beyond these uses a new shop building could have other practical benefits for the county including tourism. The existing wayside in the area is only open seasonally and has pit toilets. A new shop building will require the installation of a well and septic system. Designing the building to include public access restrooms on the exterior of the building would provide the opportunity to have facilities available for travelers year-round without adding significant expense. While the current wayside serves as a trailhead for the Ice Age Trail, it could be easily relocated to incorporate with a new building and serve as a place for county tourism information to be displayed.
Admittedly the estimated $1.25 million price tag of the project could cause sticker shock. The size of the project averages out to about $69 per square foot which is not out of the ballpark for a building of this type nor for the 50 plus years of service that can be expected from the building. The county will be effectively debt free within a few years after paying off the courthouse expansion project. As interest rates remain low, it is beneficial for the county to invest now in dealing with longterm issues.