Archived Story

New RTC plan could demolish part of Kirkbride

Published 10:06pm Monday, March 21, 2011

The city of Fergus Falls still doesn’t know what it’s going to do with the remaining Regional Treatment Center property, but a tentative plan discussed at Monday’s city council may involve the demolition of much or most of the main historic Kirkbride building.

After an hour-long work session prior to the meeting, the council voted to authorize city staff to work on a redevelopment and demolition plan for the remaining RTC property (known as parcels C and D). While the final structure of the plan will not be known for some time, it will likely result in splitting up the massive Parcel D and could result in the demolition of several of the remaining RTC buildings, possibly including the Kirkbride building.

A number of different RTC issues were discussed during the work session. One of the first was the discussion of the proposed veteran’s rehabilitation center in the building. After a recent discussion among the city staff and the mayor’s RTC Task Force, which includes health care and veteran’s affairs leaders in the community, the project was considered unrealistic. As such, city staff chose not to recommend the plan to the council, effectively rendering it dead.

“The answer that came back from the group was that the concept identified in the … project wouldn’t alone be enough to recommend stopping the progress that’s already been started towards abatement and demolition because it doesn’t seem like a viable concept in and of itself,” said Kent Mattson, the city’s special advisor on the RTC. Some of the problems associated with the project, he said, included funding sources, regional need for such a center and logistics with relocating families to the facility on a temporary basis.

However, he added, discussion among the task force did lead to the idea of what he called “a center of excellence for mental health care” for veterans, a mental health facility that would cater to the needs of veterans of all ages. The idea is still very nebulous at this point, but the council approved the task force to do further research on the idea.

The biggest thing the council approved, however, was the formation of a redevelopment and demolition plan. With the April 2013 deadline swiftly approaching (a deadline the city hopes to push back until the end of 2013), said Mattson, time is running out before the city needs to spend the $7.1 million in state grant money for the RTC’s development and demolition. The primary purpose of the plan would be to make Parcel D, which is made up of the main Kirkbride Campus, some outbuildings and the RTC’s large south lawn, more manageable.

“We really need somebody to put a spade in the ground and make something happen,” said Mattson, who added that multiple developers have been interested in part – but not all – of the parcel, but few developers have presented realistic options for the Kirkbride building.

“That building is just too big for the town,” he stated.

To that end, City Administrator Mark Sievert told the Journal, Parcel D will likely be split up into three smaller sections that are more manageable for potential developers. Each section could be appraised and sold separately. Also, the plan would also likely call for the demolition of several buildings deemed unusable, and it would perhaps slate some buildings for demolition that developers might find problematic, including part of the Kirkbride building, perhaps leaving as little behind as the tower.

Such plans have yet to be made, Sievert added; they are just possibilities until city staff comes up with a fuller picture of possibilities and talks with representatives from Bonestroo, the RTC’s engineering firm.

“We’re just going to put together some options and let the council decide,” said Sievert.

Several members of the Friends of the Kirkbride were at attendance at the meeting, and their attitudes toward much of the proceedings were laced with frustration and even a small feeling of betrayal. Gene Schmidt voiced his objection to the council not inviting the group to the meeting about the veteran’s rehab center, even though the idea was brought to the city’s attention by the group.

“We’ve been trying to be partners with you on this forever, and you keep shutting us out,” he said.

Laurie Mullen, another member of Friends of the Kirkbride, pointed to the successful redevelopment of Kirkbride campuses in other cities. She also voiced her belief that the city has created a false dilemma of needing the redevelop the Kirkbride in the next two years or needing to knock it down.

“We have the option of mothballing as well, and we never hear about that,” she said.

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