Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, March 27, 2000
Faced with injunction, Winsted council delays city hall demolition
By Jane Otto
A standing room only crowd witnessed Virginia Housum, a lawyer representing Winsted Preservation Society, Inc., inform the Winsted City Council that she would serve the city with an injunction, at its meeting Tuesday.
What prompted this action was the council's 3-2 vote not to rescind its previous decision to demolish the old city hall. Council members Gary Lenz and Tom Wiemiller were the two "aye" votes.
The pending injunction had its effect. At a later point in the meeting, the council decided to stop all action regarding the old city hall until it's clear where the city stands legally. Only the Environmental Assessment Worksheet (EAW) will continue since it was approved at an earlier meeting. An EAW is required before demolition can take place.
Representatives of the recently incorporated Winsted Preservation Society once again, as in two prior meetings, pleaded with the council to rescind its vote to demolish city hall.
"We've gone around the clock on this one," said Mayor Floyd Sneer. "I don't know what else can be said."
Mary Wiemiller, spokesperson for the society, told the council they were not there in meanness, but in hope that they could work together on this issue.
Recently, members of the preservation society, council members Lenz and Bob Kegler, and city maintenance worker Tim Kosek toured the building along with Charlie Nelson, an architect with the State Historical Preservation Office.
Council member Jeff Albers and Sneer immediately quipped that they were not aware of such a tour. Lenz explained that he didn't notify anyone else because having more than two council members present would violate the open meeting law.
Mary Wiemiller continued, saying that she was amazed at how much destruction has taken place since she was last in the building.
"The building's in sad shape, but it looks worse than what it really is. There are buildings that are in worse shape than this that are restored, not just in small towns, but everywhere," said Mary Wiemiller.
Lenz summarized what the group learned while inspecting the building. The membrane, he said, is essentially intact, however, the critical area is the south wall of the bell tower where standing water eventually leaks in around the drain. He suspects the roof trusses are probably rotted there.
Another moisture concern is that the attic is probably not properly ventilated due to a rubber membrane below the roof, Lenz explained.
He said that Nelson didn't think it was necessary to lift the roof for repairs, as was suggested in previous findings. Nelson, he said, is going to provide him with the names of two Twin Cities roofing firms who will examine the roof at no cost to the city.
Lenz also noted that:
- asbestos floor tiles were found in the old chambers where the township meetings were held, and that the acoustical tiles in what was the upstairs dance hall are being tested for asbestos.
- a post is holding up a rotted roof truss at the southeast end.
- capping the chimneys, of which there about six or seven, could prevent water leakage.
"When you walk in there, it looks like demolition has already begun," commented Mary Wiemiller.
"We are not hell-bent on tearing it down," replied Sneer. "I take quite a bit of an exception to that."
Mary Wiemiller asked if the building was put on the market.
City Administrator Aaron Reeves replied, "I've contacted every person that I and the historical society know of."
He explained that about six people have toured the building, but no one has expressed any interest or given the city any reason to extend the demolition date.
"Are we pushing for demolition?" asked Tom Wiemiller.
He read the council update, a sheet which briefly explains council agenda items. "'We need to choose a footprint for the new city hall so we can finalize how the grading will be done after demolition.'
"By this statement, I think that's what people are thinking, that we are pushing for demolition. Tell me if I'm wrong," continued Tom Wiemiller.
Sneer said that the council unanimously voted on procuring demolition bids.
"That's before I knew how 300 people felt," replied Tom Wiemiller.
"That's not a majority," said Sneer.
At that point, protocol temporarily left the chambers.
"How many signatures do you want?" shouted someone in the audience.
"We don't want signatures," replied Sneer.
"How many signatures constitute a majority? You tell us how many you want and we'll go get them," voiced another.
Reeves reply brought quiet to the room. "A council decision was made to demolish the building. We're acting on that decision. Yes, that's the direction we're taking, but that's the process," he said.
Discussion ensued on space issues, tax dollars, state grants, and building renovation.
Reeves reminded those present that there is little difference in the cost of remodeling approximately $750,000 and building new slightly under one million.
"You don't want to be left with a 100-year-old building and the maintenance on it," he said.
"This is not an emotional decision. From a dollars-and-cents point of view, it doesn't make sense," added Albers.
Mary Wiemiller asked again if the council would rescind its decision to demolish the city hall.
By 3-2 vote, the council remained firm on its previous decision.
Ironically, demolition bids was the next item on the council agenda.
Architect Bob Russek of Bonestroo, Rosene, Anderlik, and Associate, said 15 bids were received.
Wickenhauser Excavating was low bidder at $59,780 for the small footprint and $66,780 for the larger footprint. Both bids include grading and site preparation.
The council needs to decide which footprint is more feasible, but Reeves said it has 45 days to award a bid. The council also cannot award any bids until the EAW is completed, which should be mid-April.
Tom Wiemiller questioned whether everything should be tabled until the pending legal action is resolved.
Albers thought tabling everything was irresponsible. Cities don't stop business every time they're hit with a legal suit, he added.
Lenz said he was willing to wait and let things calm down.
The council decided to stop all action regarding city hall, with the exception of the EAW, until legal matters are resolved.
If you look it up the word "injunction" in the dictionary, you'll find something like this: "A judicial process or order requiring the person or persons to whom it is directed to do or refrain from doing a particular act."
City Attorney Fran Eggert explained that an attorney draws up the paperwork for an injunction and then serves a particular party with that injunction. It then goes before a judge who determines if the reason for the injunction is valid and whether or not to uphold it.
An injunction was the farthest thing on their minds when they attended the council meeting, said Peggy Lenz, a member of the Winsted Preservation Society. She said they just want the city to stop and take a look.
"I don't want to hear someone say years from now, 'It's a shame they tore the old building down. Why didn't they do something about it?' Well, that's what we're doing."
As of this time, the City of Winsted has not yet been served with an injunction.
City Administrator Aaron Reeves said he thought something like this might happen, however, he stands behind the council's decision. He said its findings were very thorough and scientific.
"I feel confident about their decision. It's based on facts and figures and not on sentiment," he said.
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