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County breaks ground on new Dave Stipe Annex

by KRISTI NIEMEYER
Editor | May 9, 2024 12:00 AM

Family members and friends of former Lake County Commissioner Dave Stipe, who died last March after a lengthy battle with a rare form of skin cancer, helped break ground last Tuesday on the new 15,000-square-foot Dave Stipe Annex. 

"Having the annex dedicated to my father is an honor and a privilege," said Stipe's daughter, Taylor. "He would be thrilled that the much-needed expansion has come to fruition."

Swank Enterprises is general contractor on the three-story structure, which is going up on the corner of Fifth Ave. E. and First St. E., southwest of the existing courthouse.

According to Commissioner Gale Decker, it’s a fitting tribute to Stipe. 

“Dave was a beloved public servant who worked tirelessly to improve the lives of the citizens of Lake County,” he said. “His dedication to serving the community and his unwavering commitment to upholding the values of integrity, honesty, and transparency have left a lasting impact on the county.”

Decker says the annex, which has been in the planning stages for several years, marks the first major building project the county has embarked upon since the courthouse was expanded 50 years ago. According to the Flathead Courier, April 5, 1973, commissioners at that time hoped to double the size of the existing building for between $500,000 and $600,000.

This time around, the project is expected to cost around $7 million. Scheduled for completion in the summer of 2025, the annex will provide space for several county departments, including elections, planning and environmental health, as well as technology-based services such as Geographic Information Systems used for mapping, and IT. The county superintendent of schools’ office will also relocate to the new building.

Moving elections from the basement of the courthouse to the new annex will provide more space for staff, who are especially cramped during election cycles, and make the office more accessible to the public. At the same time, the shift creates “more space in the basement of the present courthouse for expansion of the detention center,” said Decker.

He noted that about one third of the funding for the annex comes from a court-ordered judgment levy on property taxes, mandated as part of a settlement of a recent lawsuit requiring the county to add more detention beds to reduce overcrowding. The federal American Rescue Plan Act will fund just under $2 million of the remainder, and the county plans to borrow an estimated $2-$3 million to complete the project.

    Architectural rendering of the new Dave Stipe Annex, named in honor of former long-time county commissioner and Charlo-area rancher. (Courtesy photo)