Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, July 19, 1999

Re-use study results announced on old Winsted city hall

By Luis Puga

Residents filled the new Winsted city hall Tuesday to hear the results of the re-use study for the community's old city hall building.

The meeting ended the re-use study phase, but still leaves much to do about the future of the 1894 building, designed by St. Paul architect Louis Lockwood.

The presentation of the study was led by members of the re-use study consultation team. Architect Thomas Zahn, of Thomas R. Zahn and Associates, began the meeting by reviewing the executive summary of the study.

Zahn said that he and the rest of the team spent two days interviewing at least 20 residents and reviewing the site. He told them that the focus of the study was for re-use, and if feasible, the community should keep the building.

The conclusion was a list of proposed alternative uses. The building could be used for a city hall, business, or library, multipurpose, residential; or it could be totally demolished.

The latter, Zahn added, was not discussed often, but did come up.

Each of the uses had different implications of ownership for the city.

For instance, if the city wants to use the building as municipal space, it could retain ownership and renovate, or sell it to a developer for a nominal fee, who would renovate and lease the building to the city.

Private use, whether business or residential, would have the city sell the building. Zahn added the downtown location near a lake might make the building attractive to private interests.

If demolition were to happen, Zahn added that it would cost the city money. If such an alternative were sought, the city might choose to build a new city hall, or simply sell the land for development.

After all alternatives were listed, Zahn said his team recommended using the building as a city hall. Siting its location and space, he said, "It just seems like an obvious fit if the building were to be rehabbed."

Along with that, he recommended that the city do a thorough structural analysis of the roof trusses and floor systems to determine what needs to be brought up to code.

The study also recommended stopping any deterioration and replacing problem areas, due to water damage from clogged gutters and downspouts. City Administrator Aaron Reeves confirmed that those repairs have been started.

Through the interview process, the consultant team determined there is some interest by private developers. Zahn added that if the building were rehabbed and leased back to the city, a 20 percent tax credit is available to the developer.

Wrapping up, Zahn said, "I think our strongest recommendation and our strongest feeling ­ and I think we can say that we have some passion about this ­ is that it's important for the community to retain its landmarks and its center, and not to be suburbanized."

Building condition

Building condition was mostly discussed by Architect Robert Claybaugh of Claybaugh Preservation Architecture, Inc., and John Lauber of the State Historic Preservation Office of the Minnesota Historical Society.

Essentially, the conclusion of their analysis was that the building has some small problem areas, but they are repairable.

Many studies and cost estimates have been done over the years. A previous SEH/RCM engineering study had indicated that the ceiling truss system would have to be replaced.

However, the firm told the consultation team that it had neither funds nor time to do a thorough evaluation and simply went with the worst case scenario.

It was also noted that the engineering firm, according to Reeves, still had $2,000 of the city's monies from that study.

The problem in the ceiling area would have to be addressed. Claybaugh said that much of it had to do with the design of the building, which caused it to have a tendency to leak. The damage is essentially rot, causing a truss to drop.

Overall, he believes that the structure is sound and could be repaired. He added not having to replace the ceiling truss system will save money on repairs.

The architects found that much of the rot and water damage in the building were due to poor maintenance. Lauber said most of the damage could have been addressed in the interior ceiling drain system with a simple $5 fix.

Another issue is that the individual floor's load capacities do not meet current codes and would have to be reinforced. That would also depend on the use of those floors.

The top level, an auditorium for general assembly, currently only handles 50 psf (pounds per square foot) of live load. If used again for that purpose, the load capacity would have to be doubled.

Plans such as a library would also require reinforcement because of the weight of the books. Other uses such as office space or residential use would require little or no adjustment.

Also dependent on use would be an elevator. One would have to be added if the building was to be used as a city hall for handicap accessibility.

However, if it was a residence, an elevator would not be required.

The study included scenarios that placed an elevator both inside and outside of the building. Claybaugh said the elevator would be cheaper and more easily placed on the inside. Outside of the building, the elevator would require its own structure.

Besides the floor, other improvements would have to be made. Things such as electrical, heating, and cooling systems have worn down.

It was also noted that the only hazardous material in the building is probably just lead paint, that would have to be encased.

Overall, Claybaugh felt repairs could be done easily and the building could last for another 100 years.

Wrapping up the consultants' comments, they reiterated their opinion that the building was important and valuable.

Lauber added, "The construction of that city hall was a public demonstration that this was a town that had a bright future. This still is a town that has a bright future. You have a lot going for you here.To keep that city hall would be another demonstration that you've got another 100 years here."

Public input

Members of the audience had an opportunity to ask questions.

Much of their concerns addressed money issues, as to how much repairing the hall would cost the city, or how much leasing would cost.

Reeves and the team agreed that while some estimation had been done, a cost study would have to be done to determine any such figures. Previous studies have indicated figures, but are dated.

Both Reeves and Mayor Floyd Sneer also mentioned the potential for grants. However, both maintained that grants have to be applied for and some are very competitive, and getting grant money is never guaranteed.

Reeves also mentioned that a downtown TIF (Tax Increment Financing) district could bring costs of repairs down. Also, such a district would benefit any remodeling needed to bring any building up to code in the district.

It was also asked how much the city has spent on the various studies it has done and how much it will cost to do further studies. Reeves said he didn't know, because much of it was done before he arrived in the city.

Also, the other studies did come to some fruition in the late '80s and the city was presented with a referendum on bonding options for repairing or replacing the building. Both failed to pass, but it was noted that the city's tax base has grown, and that attitudes toward the project may also have changed.

He added that the next studies to be done will provide a more thorough description of the buildings needs and cost estimates. Reeves also said that he hopes the next studies will be done by December.

Further, one consideration is comparing the cost of fixing the building over building a new city hall.

Currently, the city hall is in rented space with a three-year lease. Reeves mentioned that a new city hall in Watertown cost $1 million. Lauber added that the cost may be the same, about 10 percent less, to repair the old city hall based on SEH/RCM estimations.

Reeves also felt an addition would be needed so that the city would not grow out of it soon. Claybaugh added that there is good space on the land for expansion.

Reeves added that cost comparison depends on the design of the new building.

He said that the city will make an effort to get more information out so voters will know the costs, and the city will also try to keep any undue burden from falling on the taxpayers. He also said that people who are concerned about the issue should make sure to inform the council of their feelings on the future of the building.

The city will have additional public meetings to provide information.

Despite the concern over many topics, passion for the issue was evident.

Some feel that the building represents history and that history is not being respected.

Others feel that the building represents something unique and special to Winsted, and that the decision should not just be an economic one, but an emotional one as well.

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