Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, May 22, 2000

Council considering selling Winsted city hall to preservation group

By Jane Otto

A dollar can still go a long way.

Or that may be what the Winsted Preservation Society is thinking.

It was the consensus of the Winsted City Council at its meeting Tuesday that City Administrator Aaron Reeves will put together an agreement offering the old city hall to the preservationists for $1. Both the council and preservationists would need to review the agreement.

The agreement will probably be for two years in which time the building would revert back to the city if nothing is done to restore the building, said Reeves. The city will most likely ask the society to put up a performance bond that would cover the difference in costs between present bids and new bids for demolition or restoration, he added.

Getting to that point was not easy.

At the May 2 meeting, it was agreed that the preservationists' architects, Jason Weinbeck and Jeanne Sterner, would discuss their findings with the city's architects prior to Tuesday's meeting. That did not happen.

In speaking later with Mary Weimiller of the Winsted Preservation Society, she said that their architects contacted the city's architect Bob Russek of Bonestroo, Rosene, Anderlik and Associates, but he was advised by the city's attorney not to discuss the building with the preservationists' architects.

Instead, Weinbeck presented their findings for the first time at the city council meeting.

Apparently, a copy of the architects' presentation wasn't given to the council prior to the meeting. Both Reeves and Mayor Floyd Sneer said that it's difficult to ask questions about material that was just presented to them.

Weinbeck continued with his presentation..

"If rehabilitated properly, cost maintenance would be the same, if not less, than a new building," said Weinbeck. "With little maintenance over 100 years, it has withstood the test of time."

The heating costs would be less for a building with such a thick exterior as opposed to a stick frame, he said.

Weinbeck said he had Mark McPherson, a specialist in masonry, analyze the brick and said that McPherson found the building to be an excellent candidate for repointing.

Weinbeck said he was told the total cost for tuckpointing was $56,000 and pointed out that the city has obtained a grant for $50,000 for that purpose. Weinbeck also said the tuck pointing would last 50 years.

Bob Russek, an architect with Bonestroo, Rosene, Anderlik and Associates, questioned a 50-year warranty on tuckpointing. (The city previously requested the Bonestroo firm to do a study on remodeling the city hall. This was also the third feasibility study the city had done on the historic building.)

"I don't know of anyone who would guarantee work for 50 years," said Russek. "Structural warranties are typically for 10 years."

The brick is very similar to that of the Delano library, an historical building the Bonestroo firm restored, said Russek. The library brick is soft and needed maintenance within five years, he said.

Russek said that he didn't study the city hall in detail, but is basing his answer on his experience with the Delano library.

Weinbeck replied that he has seen countless studies on repointing and has actually seen guarantees for 25 years.

The cost Weinbeck gave per square foot was $77.60, but Reeves and Russek pointed out that that amount was not based on having to redo the basement, break out floors, lay new concrete, and reinforce the footings which would be necessary to house a library.

Russek said the preservationists' plans do meet all the space needs, however, the library is only 20 percent of the useable space. Since another grant for $200,000, which the city has obtained, is for a library, he said it probably wouldn't apply to this plan.

Reeves agreed. "This would be making city hall handicapped accessible, not a library," he said.

The grant was applied for with the atrium style library that the Bonestroo firm designed, Reeves said.

Weinbeck said that the grant could be rewritten.

Reeves said yes, but there would be no guarantee that the city would get $200,000 again. The library space is less, so the amount of the grant may change, he added.

Weinbeck referred to other historical buildings that have been restored, such as the Dakota County Courthouse and the Hastings City Hall.

"Is it fair to compare Hastings to Winsted?" asked Sneer. "It's the contingencies that scare me."

Sneer then asked to close discussion and move on. However, at that point, civil discourse was temporarily abandoned and name calling and shouting took its place.

The room quieted when Sneer said he would sell the city hall for $1 and the preservation society can fix it up.

Virginia Hosum, attorney for the preservationists, asked, "Is the city seriously considering an offer for $1?"

City council member Jeff Albers said, "I'm not against the idea, but I still want to go through with this hearing."

(A hearing for a temporary restraining order not to demolish the building was scheduled for the next day. See related story.)

Apologies were exchanged later in the meeting for the earlier outburst.

"I don't take any of this personally. Even though we don't agree, I hold no ill will towards you," said Albers.

Peggy Lenz of the Winsted Preservation Society reiterated the same.

City waits for temporary restraining order decision

Judge Terrence Conkel told the City of Winsted at a May 17 temporary restraining order hearing in McLeod County Courthouse, Glencoe, that it must refrain from demolishing the old city hall until he reviews all files and issues a written order.

The Winsted Preservation Society is seeking the restraining order to stop the city from destroying the city hall until their lawsuit comes to trial. The society filed suit to obtain a permanent injunction in efforts to save the building.

Virginia Hosum, attorney for the preservationists, said at a later time, "We are pretty confident that we will get the temporary restraining order. The city's arguments are novel and never recognized by court before. They are arguments that need to be sorted out in a trial.

City Administrator Aaron Reeves later said that he was disappointed that Hosum had asked for a November court date. Reeves said that he was under the impression that they would be willing to fast track.

In speaking with Hosum, she said that if the city would have agreed not to demolish the building until the lawsuit is heard, then the society would be on a faster pace.

"If we get a temporary restraining order, then we're not in a big rush any more," she added.

The city wants a July court date, but Hosum said that even if the society was on a fast track, they could never be ready by July. Depositions of council members and experts and preparation of briefs could not be done in that small of amount of time.

George Hoff, who is representing the city through the League of Minnesota Cities, said,"Both parties put forth arguments essentially contained in their briefs. The city's position is well-founded in law and fact, and we are hoping the court agrees with our request for an expedited trial so we can get this issue resolved."

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