Despite 13th hour appeal,
'north' building history
Thursday, February 28, 2013 4:09 AM
The county's "north" building could be coming down by the end of next month.
Constructed in 1883, it's the last of the original county "poor farm" buildings. Two weeks ago, the supervisors voted 4-1 to deconstruct it, as requested by Wellington Place care facility officials.
However, a group of "concerned citizens" asked the supervisors to discuss the topic again Monday morning. About 15 people attended, several asking the supervisors to reconsider their previous decision, but the Board took no action after the 30-minutes discussion.
Wellington Place is a county owned, privately managed care facility attached to the north building by an annex. Wellington Place leases its facility from the county for $1 per year.
Last August, the Wellington Place administrator requested the north building be taken down for various health-related and economic concerns. Because the care facility's sprinkler system is tied to the north building's, Wellington Place has been spending about $12,434 annually to heat the unoccupied building.
Kevin Lee of Freeport read a letter to the supervisors from Paula Mohr, architectural historian for the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs, and Ralph Christian, a historian with the organization.
"We strongly recommend that before a decision is made about the future of the building that it first be documented and evaluated for National Register (of Historic Places) eligibility by a qualified architectural historian," the letter stated.
"Put a moratorium on the demolition," said Lee, who suggested the building could be "mothballed" until another use could be found.
"You're removing the cultural base of the town ... it's a sense of place and a sense of history," Lee said.
Julie Fischer of Decorah read a letter from Carol Dowe, a 1961 Decorah High School graduate now living in British Columbia, Canada, who also owns a century farm in Winneshiek County. Dowe recently began lobbying supervisors to preserve the north building in a fashion similar to what was done in her Canadian community with an 1800s schoolhouse.
"Normal protocol for demolition of a building, particularly a heritage building, requires not only the estimate of demolition, but also the cost of bringing it to building code. That has not been done, and therefore we suggest the Board backs up and gathers the necessary information and makes it public, so an intelligent decision can be made. There has been a lack of transparency in the decision to demolish this heritage building," Dowe said in her letter to the Board, read by Fischer.
Dowe also wrote in her letter that the Board was given erroneous information. While the supervisors were told the north building's sprinkler system needed to be brought up to code by May or Wellington Place would lose its nursing facility certification, Dowe wrote that was not the case.
In her letter, Dowe also said the supervisors were given the wrong impression when they were told Iowa Inspections and Appeals inspectors would not go into the north building.
Dowe wrote she had received a letter from the state fire marshal's office that said, "The current area being used (Wellington Place) has been inspected in the past year and is believed to be up to all the codes and standards that are required."
Dowe cited another letter from the State of Iowa Inspection and Appeals Department, which said, "Health facilities surveyors would have no reason to enter the north building," since it's not being used.
Kyrl Henderson of Decorah questioned the Board's "process," which led to the decision to take down the north building.
"There's no paper trail ... some of the information has been inaccurate. I encourage you to say what you're going to do and do what you say," he said.
Used for storage
The north building last served as the men's unit for the Winneshiek County Care Facility (now Wellington Place) in the early 1990s before the new care facility nursing unit was built. Since then, it's been used for storage.
Supervisor Dean Thompson, the only Board member who voted against the deconstruction of the north building, is a former member of the Winneshiek County Historic Preservation Commission who was interested in seeing the north building preserved.
Since being elected a supervisor last fall, Thompson said his principles and ethics are the same, but he now has other responsibilities and sworn duties.
While the county "can't save everything," he said, going forward, citizens should be challenged to think about what's important enough to unite them to "make a difference."
After Monday's meeting, Thompson noted the county has the Winneshiek County Historical Society, in addition to three organizations with appointed members: the Winneshiek County Historic Preservation Commission, the Decorah Historic Preservation Commission and the Fort Atkinson Historic Preservation Commission.
"Each of the organizations needs to think about what can be done, what's good for the community, what's good based on their responsibilities to take care of old properties and work together," he said.
The historic organizations also need to collaborate with other groups - businesses and educators - and those interested in energy conservation as well as historic preservation, according to Thompson.
During Monday's discussion, Deborah Bishop, an advocate for historic preservation, commented, "Trying to organize preservationists in this town is like herding cats."
The county has already paid $14,230 for asbestos removal from the north building. The remaining cost for removal is about $64,000, according to Board of Supervisors Chairman John Logsdon.
The county has bids from Skyline Construction for deconstruction and removal of materials, and Vicks Plumbing and Heating for related plumbing work, including rerouting a water line.
"They should start dismantling the building as soon as the utilities get rerouted, which should be by the end of March," Logsdon said.
"As much as possible will be salvaged ... we're trying to be as cost effective as possible."