Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, Jan. 10, 2000

Future of old Winsted city hall still debatable

By Luis Puga

No action was taken on the issue of the old city hall at Tuesday's Winsted City Council meeting.

However, discussion centered on whether the idea of saving the historic building is still financially viable.

After a number of studies, the council was presented with two plans to use the building as a library, or to add an attachment for a city hall as well as a library. The estimated cost: $700,000 just for the library.

Council member Jeff Albers said, "Is this nuts? Seven hundred thousand just for a library?"

City Administrator Aaron Reeves said the plans were based on the assumption of preserving the building, which exacerbated the cost.

Overall, among the council members, including Albers, that intention still remains. However, the project is expected to carry a high price from current estimates.

One facet is the inclusion of an elevator in the plan to make the proposed library handicap accessible due to the requirements of grant money from the state.

Currently, the plan is to place the elevator in a one-floor library. Albers questioned how foolish it would look to have an elevator in a one floor facility.

It was asked whether the issue in general could be put to a city wide ballot. However, Council Member Gary Lenz noted that the decision was the council's since the bond for any of the plans would come from the Economic Development Authority. Such a bond would require approval only from the EDA, not by referendum.

Lenz said the council should seek to give the architects guidance on the project, noting that past plans had included features that the city didn't need. Through guidance, he felt the city could reduce the cost of the project.

Another option explored and endorsed by Albers was to look to the private sector for a solution. He noted that interest had been shown before to acquire the building from the city.

Mayor Floyd Sneer, who had been approached, said those particular interests had since passed, but others may interested and perhaps the building should be put out for bids. He added that the building could simply be sold at a negligible cost to be leased back to the city for its use.

It was also noted that demolishing the building would carry its own costs. Also, plans would eventually need to be drawn up for a new city hall, as the current city hall is rented space. Albers reiterated his desire not to see the building be torn down.

In general, council members expressed that they were tired of dealing with the issue, but would continue investigating options.

In a related matter, the council approved a resolution to provide matching funds for the library accessibility grant that required an elevato. Despite the measure, Reeves noted the resolution would not tie the city to any obligation unless the city were to ask for the money to be reimbursed.


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