Citizens sound off on north building
Thursday, January 31, 2013 3:18 AM
The disposition of the Wellington Place "north building" comes down to money.
"It's a complex situation," said Dave Stanley, secretary of the Winneshiek County Historic Preservation Commission (WCHPC), at a public hearing Monday evening hosted by WCHPC, which drew about 30 people.
"I just don't see where the funding is going to come from to deal with what needs to be dealt with," said Stanley, in response to many other speakers, who expressed interest in saving the historic building.
Last May, the Winneshiek County Board of Supervisors held a public hearing on a request from WP to demolish the north building, which is connected to the facility by an annex that houses a laundry room and boiler. During the hearing, several citizens expressed interest in preserving the building.
Wellington Place is a privately run care facility that leases property from the county for $1 per year. Former WP Administrator Deb Vondersitt told the supervisors the state fire marshal has given the facility a deadline of May 14 to bring the north building's sprinkler system up to code, or the facility could be in jeopardy of losing its certification.
Because the sprinkler system for WP is connected to the north building, WP must heat the unoccupied north building at the annual cost of about $12,434. The county recently paid $17,140 for asbestos evaluation and removal in the north building.
Board of Supervisors Chairman John Logsdon said he didn't know if the Commission's pubic hearing would affect the Board of Supervisors' decision on what to do with the building.
The public hearing, which was attended by WCHPC members Stanley, Steve Johnson and Roger Bergan, was held to "get input regarding the north building at the county farm (Wellington Plac) ," according to Stanley.
Stanley thanked Logsdon for providing the Commission with a cost-benefit analysis of deconstruction of the building.
Logsdon's analysis reflected a project cost of $82,804 to deconstruct the building, of which $17,140 has already been paid.
Julie Fischer of Decorah, a member of the Decorah City Council, said she thinks the county should consider that replacing a structure such as the north building in this day and age would cost millions.
"It (the renovation) could be done in parcels. No one entity can do this. It has to be through the cooperation of the county and the city and individual people who could pull this together. I think I've seen what Decorah can do when it wants to and the trail is a witness to what can be done," said Fischer.
Fischer suggested numerous possible uses for the building, such as a trailhead facility, a city museum, extra storage space for historical society documents, small art studios, a weaver's guild space, a center for salvaged building materials, a folk school, massage school or a rental space for gatherings. She also noted the large roof on the building would be ideal for installing solar panels which could be used to power Wellington Place.
"I think the building should be left standing and mothballed until the community can realize some of these possibilities," she said.
Kyrl Henderson of Decorah, who serves as chair of the Decorah Historic Preservation Commission, said he had asked Les Askelson, former chair of the Board of Supervisors, that a "clear process be determined so citizens know how the Board of Supervisors can reach a decision to spend $65,000 to demolish a $280,000 county asset."
"What is the process we are following? ... What are we doing? How are we doing it, and why are we doing it?" he asked.
Logsdon, who also serves as the Board of Supervisors liaison to the Board of Directors at Wellington Place, said he had put together his cost analysis at Stanley's request.
"The $280,000 this gentleman is talking about, is actually $180,000. That is not the value of the property, that is its replacement cost of a building of equal size and volume ... It is neither an assessed value or market value," said Logsdon.
Logsdon explained in fiscal year 2005-6, the county renegotiated the $46,000 capital maintenance allowance that had been paid annually to Wellington Place, reducing it to a $5,000 balance to be carried forward annually.
"The amount of savings to the taxpayers was $320,000," he said, adding Wellington Place has also paid for a $120,000 roof replacement to the entire care facility, and they also plan to pay for a new air conditioning system for around $120,000.
"The capital maintenance allowance return (what the county has saved by not paying Wellington Place) and the cost of just these two major projects (roof and 'ac') totals $560,000," he said.
Henderson next asked if someone could talk about the fire marshal's order.
"Is this in writing or do we know what the specifics of that are?" asked Henderson.
Brandy Hemesath, director of nursing at Wellington Place, said there is documentation of the fire marshal's report and that it came in a written format.
"Could you make that document publicly available?" asked Henderson.
"I don't know," said Hemesath.
Following Logsdon's explanation that any addition to WP's laundry area would best happen to the north, where the north building is located, Wayne Wasta asked for clarification.
"Where this building sits is the most likely place to do something with the laundry. If you wanted to change it and go to any other location, you would have to move the whole laundry, and that would be costly," said Logsdon.
Logsdon said in deconstructing the building, the county could find a home for everything except the roof, which could be landfilled "with no problem ... As far as the brick, we're going to move it about 150 yards and put it in stockpiles. It could be used for anything from erosion control in ditches to daily cover at the landfill. We'd be happy to go in and salvage the rest, but there isn't a lot there other than galvanized led pipe ... The way some people think, we wouldn't need to get bids on this, all it would need is a stick of dynamite," said Logsdon.
Logsdon next noted the more than 100 clients and 100 employees who would suffer if Wellington Place loses its certification because of the north building.
"I don't doubt that anyone who wants to preserve this building is sincere, but they're focus is on one part of a multimillion-dollar operation ... It's a big difference in focus ... Are we looking at the fate of a yellow building or are we looking at 200-plus county residents?" said Logsdon.
Gerald Harvey next noted he thinks in lieu of demolishing the north building, the parking lot on the south side of the building could be relocated to accommodate an addition to WP.
"What is the asset if that building were turned into a tourist attraction? How many millions of dollars could that bring into the county," said Harvey, next asking WCHPC Commissioner Johnson, director of Vesterheim, how much money Vesterheim brings to the community each year.
"Five million. But that's a private endeavor, too," answered Johnson.
Stanley added the issue also deals with whether or not auxiliary activities at the north building would be compatible with the care facility.
"Time and again, for those of us who have tried to figure out a use, compatibility has been thrown out. I've worked in mental institutions and happen to know those people like the same kinds of things we like ... Can't these people enjoy anything? Is it a prison? I certainly would like to see a building where I could go and be a part of life," said Fischer.
Logsdon said the mission statement of Wellington Place would make it "pretty difficult to have any other use for the building other than an expansion of its current use ... Wellington Place is the best at the service it provides."
George Hagen of Decorah next asked if the north building could be renovated an expanded laundry facility.
"I just don't think that's a possibility, because of the condition of the building," said Logsdon.
Kevin Lee of Decorah explained he has had several relatives who have lived and worked at Wellington Place. He criticized the lack of maintenance to the north building over the years.
"They're trying to protect the residents, but somewhere along the way, somebody dropped the ball, big time," said Lee.
Bill Green of Ossian said, "If you can come up with the funds, I'm all for it ... You either have to have public support or the money to do it privately. Santa Claus just isn't here."
In response to the suggestion the building would be valuable for alternative uses, Hemesath said, "Who would be responsible for all of that, if we brought something else into that building?"
Fischer said there would have to be a manager.
Alice Holdeman of Decorah said she is an advocate for people with disabilities, and she believes it is wrong to cut residents off from the community.
"Our community physically stands away from WP. Bringing something from the community our there to be functional, that residents could visit, could be a bridge between the people who live there and the community (of Decorah)," she said.
Wasta, a former United Methodist minister who previously worked at Wellington Place, lived in the north building and was historically instrumental in helping promote a successful bond issue for expansion of the facility, said the community needs to think about justice.
"What's justice for all those people who are served out there and what's justice for the Board. I'm not against preservation, but let's go build something we really want someplace else and not tag along on something else," he said.
"Tear the damn thing down."
Hemesath said she and the staff at Wellington Place advocate for their residents every day.
"People in the community still think we are a county home full of crazy people. We fight that every day. They don't want to be known as the old poor farm or county home ... We want to be a safe place for our residents to be and live," she said.
While Stanley said he doesn't see where the funding is going to come from, he encouraged the Board of Supervisors to put the building into a phase called "mitigation."
"When an archeological site gets excavated, everything gets thoroughly documented. I would ask the supervisors to consider that. To fund the mitigation (extensive documentation) of that building if indeed it is coming down," he said, adding the estimated cost of mitigation is between $6,000 and $8,000.
Stanley said he wanted to make it clear WCHPC has not yet taken a position on this issue, "one way or the other."
"One thing that comes to mind is that the county could set up a revolving grant fund people could use. They would have to match the funds, but they could use them for roofs or painting," he said.
He used the example of the historic Fort Atkinson bridge that community is currently trying to move and preserve.
"If we had a revolving fund, people could apply for these funds. Clearly thee people need some help. Instead of arguing something of this nature, we could go in a positive direction," said Stanley.
The Winneshiek County Board of Supervisors will discuss the fate of the north building with the WCHPC at noon Monday, Feb. 4.