BY STARRLA CRAY
BERGEN TOWNSHIP, MN The question of whether to add on to the existing town hall or construct a new building has citizens divided in Bergen Township.
“Some people want to remodel, and some want new,” Vice Chair Albert “Sonny” Teubert said, adding that, “What the people want is what I want.”
“From the phone calls I’ve been getting, the majority of the township wants to add onto the existing town hall,” Supervisor Ryan Ide said. “I do get phone calls on both sides, but that’s been the majority.”
The possibility of building a new town hall arose a few years ago, when the township’s grader and snowplow had been stored in two rented stalls from McLeod County’s storage shed on the east side of Lester Prairie.
The township organized a public meeting in September 2013, and residents recommended updating the hall, while maintaining its historic integrity.
After that meeting, Amy Meyer, who had been the township clerk at the time, said, “In other words, it doesn’t sound like anyone wants to demolish it and build new, but it would be nice to have the necessary amenities for holding elections, and improving it for meetings.”
Plans and purchases
In March 2015, citizens voted to construct a new town hall for an amount not to exceed $400,000. In September, the meeting was reconvened, and voters lowered the amount to $250,000 including the cost of land, according to meeting minutes.
The township later purchased two acres of land for $36,000. Treasurer Angela Leverich noted that, as of the end of 2015, the township had spent just over $48,000 on the property, for items such as soil boring and architect fees.
At a special meeting Feb. 17, the board met with architect Jim Haugen to discuss the building project. The four options presented in the meeting minutes were a town hall with insulated shop, town hall with cold storage shed, a town hall only, or adding onto the existing town hall (handicap ramp, sewer and water, office space with small meeting area, bathrooms, and kitchen area).
Eugene Feltmann, who resigned from the township’s building committee Wednesday, said the township now contracts for maintenance work and sold its equipment, so a shed is no longer needed.
The remodeling route
During the annual meeting March 8, citizens voted to add on to the existing town hall instead of building new.
“The vote was unanimous,” resident David Thiede said.
Although the votes were not counted, Leverich agreed, stating “They were all “yays. I didn’t hear any “nays.” She noted that 45 people attended the meeting, and 40 of them were Bergen Township residents.
At a special building committee meeting March 15, Board Chair Francis Burch read Minnesota Statute 365.10, subdivision 6: “The electors may let the town board buy or build a town hall or other building for the use of the town. The electors must decide the amount of money to be raised for that purpose. Once the town gets a site for a town hall the site must not be changed for another site, except by a vote choosing a new site. To get a new site two-thirds of those voting on the question must vote for it.”
The building committee met again March 30, and Rawelin Radtke of RAM General Contracting in Winsted gave a report on possible costs for remodeling the existing town hall, and adding on to the north side of the building.
Ide said that although the township has rough cost estimates, there are no official numbers yet.
Desire for a number
Burch said he would like the township to go out for bids to construct a new town hall, in order to have more information available for a decision.
“We’re at the point where we’re so close to getting quotes on it, I want a number first before we proceed,” he said, adding that the township could decide to reject all bids.
He said he is uncertain whether or not the township will decide to seek bids. He added that he has reservations about the proposed remodel.
“I’ve got mixed emotions about adding onto a 106-year-old building,” he said.
The current township hall, located south of Lester Prairie at 16595 Babcock Ave., is not equipped with running water or bathroom facilities at this time.
What the people want
Joanne Feltmann, who resigned as township clerk Wednesday, said she hopes the board will make a decision based on what the majority of people in the township want.
“You’re elected by the people, to work for the people,” she said. “I can’t see the spending of this if the people are opposed to it.”
Feltmann had taken the oath of office as clerk in February, replacing Amy Meyer, who had served in that position for seven years.
Thiede said he doesn’t want the town hall to cause hard feelings, and he hopes to move on with the plan to add on to the existing building.
“Township meetings are about 44 hours a year,” he said, adding that he can’t justify spending $400,000 for this purpose.