Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, July 26, 1999
Old city hall decision will require more information
By Luis Puga
What started as a discussion of the library's lease at its current rented location, finished with the Winsted City Council concluding on Tuesday that it needed more information to come to decision about the historic city hall building.
City officials concluded from a recent public meeting that the community wants to preserve the old city hall.
In addition to the public input they have received, the council have also learned that the committee that oversaw the reuse study will now be a preservation committee.
With the apparent urge to reuse the old city hall, council discussed the importance of generating some solid numbers for repairing the building.
Consensus was that the price of a new city hall or repairing the old city hall would not cost the same as stated by the preservation architects in the reuse study. If the city was to use the building for its offices or a library, the council felt an addition would be needed. The council felt this would drive up the cost of reuse.
Some private interest has been shown in developing the building and possibly leasing it back to the city. In that vein, the city has decided to discuss with developers the option of redeveloping the building. The council felt that the possibility for grant money and a potential tax write-off would attract interest in developing the building.
Reusing the old city hall for a library would solve the library's space problems, and put it in a permanent, non-rental location. General consensus of the council was that the library would need to find a permanent home because constantly moving it is expensive.
Given those reasons, the council opted to match the library's current lease with the city hall's lease.That action leaves about two years and six months on both leases. In that time, the council hopes to come up with permanent locations for both facilities.
Mayor Floyd Sneer said that grant money is available from a library rehabilitation grant, and added that, while the $150,000 grant is competitive, the administrators of the money like to see the funding go to historic buildings. This is still not a guarantee that Winsted would get the grant, and the city would have to match the grant amount.
City Administrator Aaron Reeves said that the cost to repair the old city hall was $1 million (without an addition). He felt the city could do a lot of other projects with that money.
For example, he said the city could use that money to buy the land for the new high school and donate it to the school district. Any money left over could be used to refit the elementary school in Winsted as a city hall. Reeves said this was merely a hypothetical option, and no such plan has been discussed.
Council member Jeff Albers called the idea of reuse not very practical and thought that one way of solving the problem was to give the building to the preservation committee.
In part, council skepticism of reuse might be due to the fact that the city has had a referendum issue on the old city hall before in the '80s, and reuse was voted down.
Also voted down was building a new city hall. While the council feels the current accommodations are adequate, general consensus is that the city offices will run out of space soon.
City Clerk Betty Zachmann added that she currently has no place to store important city files. Also, the current location puts the city hall in rental space, leaving the city in an ambiguous position.
The council did discover that it has some plans for both reuse and a new city hall on file. These plans could be used to get estimates from engineers on the cost of constructing a new building, and exact costs for some of the options discussed by the reuse study.
Sneer suggested that the council might consider starting a preservation fund for citizens to donate money for the old city hall. Sneer said such a fund in his hometown netted $50,000.
The council agreed that the building is in a prime location and is a valuable resource to the city. Council member Gary Lenz added that no matter what option is chosen, the city should not tear the building down. He said it would be better to give it away than to see it demolished.
City water improvement project
The city will save money on financing the water improvement project with a bank loan, but it will not be as much as originally thought. The loan, provided by Norwest bank, will require the city to raise water rates to cover 105 percent of the loan.
Originally, the lender had asked for 110 percent, but Reeves told the bank that a bond would only require the city to cover 105 percent. If the city had to pay 110 percent of the cost of the project, the loan would not be cheaper than a bond.
The bank will also ask for $1,500 from the city as a financial or bond rating check. Reeves pointed out that the fee is still less than the $27,000 fee required for a bond.
Reeves added that Winsted is probably the first city Norwest has loaned money to for a city project, and that is the reason why the lender is adjusting the terms of the loan.
The funds will be available two weeks after the city signs the loan agreement. The council approved signing the agreement in a previous meeting, but the mayor will hold off on signing the agreement until these changes can be made to the document.
The contractor for the water improvement project has also informed the city that work will begin August 2.
The contractor will also meet with the council and local utilities in a pre-construction meeting in late July.
The Legion Days parade may have to change its route, since construction work will be done along its route on Second Street. The council decided to discuss the issue with the parade organizers.
Easements needed for the projects are being collected. St. Mary's Care Center has approved the easements pending any legal concerns with their attorney.
The Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted school district will examine the easement area at the elementary school and give the city its decision in the near future. Reeves said the St. Mary's easement was the more important of the two.
Other easements are being obtained by the city's engineering firm SEH/RCM for the water main replacement.
Sewer line adjustment
The council received a request to re-direct a sewer line under two lots in Pheasant Run.
The line runs between two lots owned by Ray Quast. Quast wants to build a house across the two lots and needs the line to be redirected.
Estimated cost to move the line is $13,100. Quast asked the city to pay for half.
In a three to one vote, the council voted to pay half of the estimate.
Albers, who voted no, insisted, given Quast's recent lottery winnings, it would look bad to the public for the city to pay half of the bill.
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