Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, Jan. 24, 2000

Winsted council hears costs for old city hall options

By Luis Puga

Winsted City Council heard about options for the future of the old city hall Tuesday at its regular meeting.

The council was presented with information by Bob Russek from BRA&A, who outlined four scenarios for the historic building. He said the costs for each scenario were based on average construction costs, and this should be taken into consideration in the council's determinations.

The first scenario was to remodel the current location into just a library. Of that, Russek noted that the building had some "serious structural problems" that would have to be addressed. This included not just the roof truss system, but the load capacity of the floors.

As such, the design for the library would have a top floor that was just a perimeter, not a whole floor, reserved for a reading area and light displays. The main floor would be contiguous space and would house the book stacks.

Library stacks require floors capable of withstanding 100 pounds per square feet. Currently, the building's floors only allows for 40. This plan would minimize the amount of floor re-enforcement that would be needed for a library.

For the roof, Russek suggested replacing it with a standard bar joint roof. The current truss system he described as "not a great way to build a roof."

He noted that the roof is out of sight, so the change should not depreciate the building's aesthetic value. He added the roof could be made to look as it had the truss system to maintain the building's history appearance cheaply.

With all the renovations, cost was estimated to be $80 per square foot for the work. In total, the estimated cost was about $700,000.

The second plan involved creating an addition to the building for city offices and a police station. In this plan, city offices would be on the main floor, with council chambers above, and police below. Between the addition and the original building, one elevator would be placed for each section to share.

This plan was expected to cost about $1.1 million dollars.

The third and fourth scenarios involve demolishing the old building. This would cost about $30,000.

Then, the city would have the option to build a new library and city hall. In general, a new library would be more expensive than a city hall. The library would cost about $100 per square feet while the city hall would cost $87 per square foot, he said.

Also, a new library alone would be expected to be less expensive since it would require less lobby space. The old city hall building would require space for three floors of lobby since the layout of the floor would have to be duplicated on all three levels. A new library could be built on just one floor, only needing one floor of lobby space.

Combining the two new buildings would be more expensive than renovation, but only by about $50,000. While renovation is cheaper, Russek said, "The downside of that is you still have a 100-year-old building."

In general, he added that those numbers could be "attacked" once the council chooses a direction to attempt to minimize costs. The project could also be done in pieces.

For instance, the council could renovate one floor of the old city hall, move in the library, and leave a space for an elevator to satisfy a requirement for a $150,000 state grant.

Some concern was expressed for the maintenance of the soft brick building, as it would require regular tuck pointing.

Also, Council Member Jeff Albers noted that he received calls from the public indicating that a $700,000 price tag was too much for remodeling a building.

Sick time

The council approved amending the employee ordinance to allow up to 480 hours of sick time banking for employees, who could cash out those hours to pay for health insurance to cover the gap in retirement to age 65.

For long term employees, they would follow the city's previous policy of banking up to 960 hours to be cashed out for health insurance coverage, as well.

City Administrator Aaron Reeves presented figures indicating how area businesses handled their sick time policies. In terms of banking, it was determined that the new decision fell into the average of those figures.

Initially, Council Member Tom Wiemiller suggested leaving the policy as is, to be proposed later nearer to budget discussions.

However, Reeves said that some employees might be planning on hearing about the policy soon, wondering how many hours they could bank.

In general, consensus seemed to be to cover employees' needs from an injury until the city's short term disability program kicks in. Some members felt the current program allowed employees to bank too many hours, however.

Said Council Member Gary Lenz, "If we're going to let people bank all this time, let's cut back on our disability insurance."

Lenz also said he felt the banking should only cover an employee until disability insurance benefits would kick in.

However, those benefits would amount to about $800 per month for some employees. Reeves said, "That's enough to bury some people."

Also, some council members preferred allotting cashouts for banked sick days only if they were put to medical use.

Said Albers, "Sick days are nice, but I don't think we owe them to anybody."

While the council determined its ultimate course of action on the subject, ordinance documents will have to be drafted to finalize a vote on the matter.

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