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Final work finishing up on embattled Griggs County Courthouse

COOPERSTOWN, N.D. -- More than a year after the dust settled on a dispute over the new Griggs County Courthouse/Emergency Operations Center, all but one department has moved into the building.


COOPERSTOWN, N.D. - More than a year after the dust settled on a dispute over the new Griggs County Courthouse/Emergency Operations Center, all but one department has moved into the building.

The concrete was poured Thursday for a parking lot and sidewalks, and Griggs County Commission Chairman Troy Olson said only some of the landscaping work remains. The Water Board will be the last group to move into the $3.5 million facility.

Olson said about 100 people attended an open house for the building April 28.

"It was well-attended for a little town," he said. "It's a nice building. There's no question there."

The combined courthouse and EOC project was at the center of a dispute between Griggs County and the County Building Authority over the financial responsibility of what a year ago was still an unfinished $2.2 million courthouse portion of the project.


Herald archives show Griggs County filed a civil suit in September 2015, claiming a breach of contract, saying the Building Authority had "failed and refused to complete the courthouse facility." The county was seeking a judgment of almost $300,000, the amount it had paid to the Building Authority in lease payments since 2013, plus additional legal costs.

The Building Authority filed a countersuit, disputing the claim it had sole responsibility for the failure of the project, contending the county failed in some of its obligations to bring the courthouse project to completion, and that the county wrongfully interfered with the Building Authority's efforts to complete the project.

Two projects

The combined project was unique, archives stated, because it involved two separate projects - the $2.2 million courthouse and the $1.3 million EOC - rolled into one contract, with each project controlled by a different group.

The courthouse was financed through a $2.2 million, 20-year bond. The EOC was financed by a federal Department of Homeland Security grant, which was administered by the North Dakota Department of Emergency Services. The Griggs County Sheriff's and State's Attorney's offices have been operating in the EOC half of the building for some time.

The unusual project division was the result of a recall election in October 2013, according to Herald archives, in which all five county commissioners were defeated.

The county was to oversee the EOC project, while the Building Authority was to preside over the courthouse. The recall was prompted by the former County Commission's decision earlier in 2013 to proceed with building the courthouse and adjacent EOC, despite voters' rejection of three separate bond issues to finance the project.

The commissioners then formed a private, nonprofit organization to issue bonds to finance the courthouse portion of the building and to oversee construction of the project, archives stated.


Normally, that would pose no problem because the County Commission and the Building Authority usually are comprised of the same people. However, the recall changed that.

Stories in the Herald's archives said construction stopped in May 2014 after contractors walked off the job over payment delays and contract language disputes. At the time, the project was considered to be 90 percent to 95 percent complete.

After preliminary settlement discussions broke down in 2016, a judge directed the two sides to make a "good faith attempt" at mediation last May to avoid trial. Details of the mediation agreement were confidential.

"The building was close enough to completion that it didn't seem like a good idea to spend a lot of money on a court case," Olson said Thursday. "The Building Authority still had some money left and was compelled to pay ... there was some money owed to the contractor, and the Building Authority paid what they could, and the county paid the balance. The contractor then was made whole, and he was able to pay all the subcontractors."

Olson said the County Commission budgeted some money to complete the project in 2016 and again this year.

"Everyone seems to be settled in, and everybody is going about their business," he said.

He said one of the current County Commission members declined to sit on the new Building Authority Board, so it's now comprised of just four members.

The old Griggs County courthouse, built from 1883 to 1884, had been considered North Dakota's oldest courthouse still in its original use. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.


This story includes reporting by former Herald writer Kevin Bonham.

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