Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, March 13, 2000

Debate continues, but old city hall still slated for demolition

By Luis Puga

Winsted City Council held the line on advertising for bids on demolition of the old city hall building March 2.

This was despite a request by local preservationists to put off demolition until the council had toured other rehabilitated buildings in the area.

Due to staff scheduling conflicts, the Journal was unable to cover the meeting directly, so this report was constructed through later interviews.

The Friends of City Hall Committee presented a statement read by Peggy Lenz and Mary Wiemiller. The statement read, "Our committee wishes to work with you in a spirit of cooperation and good faith. We are not here to be adversarial on this issue, though there are two clearly defined positions on the proposed demolition of historic city hall. We see this as an opportunity for city government to work with its constituency."

The statement included four requests.

The first was to rescind the council's decision to take bids on the demolition of the city hall.

The second included a tour of other rehabilitated facilities with John Lauber, a representative of the Minnesota Historical Society.

The third was that the council meet with the preservationists' committee to review possible grants and previous studies for options for the old city hall. Also, a request was made to pursue possible third party ownership of the building by enticing a private developer with a tax credit.

The final request was to prevent further damage to the building by placing a plywood cover over the south window and over the openings in the bell tower, and to repair the southeast drain pipe.

Also addressing the council on behalf of preserving the building were Lauber; Britta Bloomberg of the State Historical Preservation Office; and George Edwards, from the Preservation Alliance.

Bloomberg spoke of the grant process and application that Winsted had completed. She noted that the amount, $50,000, was the most her office had approved last year and was alarmed by the "hasty" decision to demolish the building.

Both she and Lauber called the historic city hall an "anchor building " whose destruction would "rip out the heart of the downtown."

Edwards said that buildings in far worse condition had been rehabilitated with funds from the State Historic Preservation Office.

Bloomberg also read from Winsted's grant application, written by City Administrator Aaron Reeves, that read, "The city intends to use the historic city hall for 100 more years at least. We realize that we took for granted the gift of history that this building offers and have almost let it fall to ruin.

"We do not intend to let this happen again. This building will serve as a community library and museum for as long as it can hold the citizens of Winsted. Once our community out-grows the existing building, we will look at expansion that will keep the historic integrity of the building and its listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

" The city will fund the use of the buildings, and its preservation through its general budget. City hall operation and maintenance will be a line item that is funded as all city functions are, through taxation, fees, and government aid. We will never again make the mistake of taking for granted a historic monument," the grant request stated.

Mayor Floyd Sneer took exception to Bloomberg's statement that the council's decision to demolish was hasty, citing the extensive study and time spent on the issue.

Other discussion concerned the cost of demolition if disposal of materials, completion of an environmental assessment worksheet, and an asbestos study was added to the cost of a new building.

Also, according to the preservationists, Reeves admitted that it was the city's plan to move ahead with a plan for a new building a couple years down the road.

After discussion, it was decided that Reeves would work with the committee to explore other options. The three repairs would also be completed on the building.

The EAW process will also add some time to the process of demolition, including a 30-day comment period. The council had hired Northern Environmental for $3,000 to perform the study which will be submitted to the state.

Also part of the EAW process is a recommendation that the city hold a public meeting concerning demolition. However, despite requests from the public to hold the meeting, the council declined to do so since it was not required.

Reeves said comments on the EAW study can include issues of historical impact. A hazardous material survey will also have to be done for another $1,000.

In later comments, Wiemiller told the Journal that the committee is working on incorporating itself and has hired an attorney, Virginia Housum, who is preparing papers to file a permanent injunction against the city to stop the demolition.

Wiemiller said that her committee is more interested in working with the city than going to court over the issue. However, she also noted her group is prepared to do so if necessary.

As part of its effort to save the old city hall, the Friends of City Hall is conducting poster and essay contests for children in the Winsted area.

Deadline for both contests is Thursday, March 30. Entries should be dropped off at the Winsted Public Library.

The poster contest is for children up to age 10 who live in Winsted or Winsted Township. Three winners will be chosen for a prize of $15 each.

The essay contest is open to students grades five and up who live in Winsted or Winsted Township, or have any connection to the area. The prize is $25 for the three best essays and the essays must include reasons for saving the old city hall.

Further details of the contests are available at the library.

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