Under one demolition plan, the central, east and west tower portions of the RTC “horseshoe” would be saved, with the rest of the structure being demolished.

Archived Story

City begins RTC demo discussions

Published 11:10am Tuesday, April 17, 2012 Updated 11:33am Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Though the Fergus Falls City Council members said at their last meeting that they were open to further development proposals for the Regional Treatment Center, not much discussion of the property on Monday night was dedicated to talking about possible proposal options. Instead, talk turned to the logistics of demolition, along with getting an extension on the state’s RTC demolition/infrastructure grant.

Under one demolition option, the only part of the “horseshoe complex” left standing would be the central tower area, resulting in a demolition of over 300,000 square feet of existing structures.

The hour and a half-long work session started off with a presentation by Phil Caswell, a representative of Stantec Consulting. Stantec acquired Bonestroo, the firm involved with the city’s various engineering projects at RTC.

In the presentation, Caswell painted a stark picture of an RTC that has entered deterioration. Though the brick and mortar construction is strong, the building’s lack of heat and upkeep in the last few years has contributed to some damaged interiors (mold, water problems) and eroding exteriors (the paint on brick has trapped moisture onto the building’s outer walls). The building’s electric, heating, and possibly plumbing systems are also out of date.

In short, he said, the Kirkbride can be repaired, but every year increases the rehabilitation cost and decreases the market value unless the city begins consistent upkeep again.

“It’s evident that time is not its friend,” he said of the building.

However, Caswell noted, the building could easily be torn down to leave either just the central tower section or the central section and the two smaller tower sections to the far east and west on the horseshoe. The building was built in phases, and much of the different sections’ previous exteriors are still clearly visible on the inside of the structure.

“Just like it was a phased construction, (it) allows for sort of a phased deconstruction,” he said, marking the cost for the demolition of everything but the central tower at just under $4 million, with bid advertisement taking place in July and project completion taking place in October 2013. The city has approximately $5 million left in its RTC demolition/infrastructure grant.

City Engineer Dan Edwards agreed with Caswell’s assessment, calling the preservation of one or three towers a realistic option given the scope and condition of the entire structure.

“If we can’t have all the buildings and redevelop them, we think at minimum we should probably at least keep this,” he said.

However, the idea of tearing down most of the horseshoe was opposed by Mayor Hal Leland and many attending members of the public. Instead, Leland argued, the city should ask the state for a long-term extension of its grant (multiple city officials mentioned a 20-year extension as a suggestion discussed in recent weeks) and a set-aside amount of demolition escrow as the city tries to find a developer for the building. He also argued that the city should use some of its RTC dollars to hire a marketing consultant to bring more exposure to the building (the grant money cannot legally be used for that project, but the city has a separate account of funds from the state for RTC upkeep).

Leland also warned that tearing down parts of the building could void up to $40 million in historical tax credits, according to information he’d received from the Minnesota Historical Society. Chris Schuelke, director of the Otter Tail County Historical Society, also informed the council that the entire horseshoe is on the National Register of Historical Places – not just the tower.

“I think if we ignore the enormous impact that (tax credits) would have on rehabilitating the entire complex, we are negligent in considering what really must be done at the RTC site,” he said, referring to the credits as a potentially large economic driver.

However, the council was focused on word from state employees that an extension on the April 2013 grant deadline must have some sort of comprehensive plan behind it (the demolition plan would also likely require a short extension), and they noted that the building currently lacks a developer.

Alderman Eric Shelstad also turned Leland’s economic argument around and said that while historic and cultural concerns are important to the RTC convention, he believes there is much economic potential from turning much of the current site into green space.

“I think if we were purely looking at the economics, I don’t think we’d be spending a lot of time talking about preservation,” he said. “The historical significance and the preservation side goes beyond just the (statement), ‘This is the best use of the dollar,’ in my opinion.”

Ultimately, the council deferred a decision until after a work session at 4 p.m. on April 30 in the city council chamber. City staff will get more information on some possible preservation options, as well as information on an extension from state employees.

During the discussion, the possibility was also broached that the Friends of the Kirkbride could raise money toward hiring a marketing firm for the building. After the meeting, member Laurie Mullen said the group would be willing to raise money for that purpose.

“We definitely need to look outside Fergus Falls for expertise,” she said.

To find out how to donate money to the effort, contact Mullen at (218) 736-3359 or Maxine Schmidt at (218) 736-5328.

  • nanajean

    If they destroy any part of the Horseshoe no one will be eligible for the preservation credits. And after listening to the presentation and comments made last night, they never had any intention of trying to save this building. If they did they would not have tore down the incinerator, and would have maintained heat to this building so the deterioration would not have taken place. We either have the most feeble minded people on the council, or they are on the dole and will get something out of the RTC being torn down. And to totally change the story from 2 weeks ago, they wouldn’t know the truth if it hit them in the head.

  • Apples

    If they had built an Ice arena there, they could have made a huge master convention center…

    OOPS too late for that now.

    Wait! They can build another arena! Everyone can donate to the NEW AREA again.

    Or we can find some one to start a Kirkbride Convention Artist Center there and charge the county another tax.

  • BWD

    Hey, Jean: How about I take over your house. Now, I am going to just remove everyone in it and I will promise to fix it up and do something with it, I don’t know, may put a business there or something. Now, You just leave the premises, and let me handle everything. No money down, just my promise.


    If I have trouble coming up with money later, I will be very happy to meet with you and we’ll work something out…


    • Cinder103

      People need to READ THE PAPER and the facts before blowing off steam about nothing they know about. Dave do you (by what ive seen you comment lately) have anything good to say? Do you have a positive bone in your body? Nobody is asking to storm into “your home” and take over with no regards to doing it the right way. If you saw the city council meeting where all your city council did was be little the ONE person who wants to HELP YOUR CITY you would know they are not giving him proper paperwork to procede where he needs to go either. I say watch the council meetings, attend them, and read ALL the articles and PAY ATTENTION to the facts instead of being as ignorant as the people that city on your council.

      • nanajean

        Erin, thank you so much for your very smart response. It just about covered all the bases too. Smart girl!

  • Kirkbride lover

    Dave you sound as ignorant as the council. Grass roots and ground level stuff does indeed work if given a chance. I offered options to the council and a couple were looking at me like i was nuts, one was playing on his phone, and several were scribbling. Not sure if they are just so set to demolish something because they personally have no interest or what the problem is here but as a coucil member myself we actually go out in our town and take in what is being talked about. Why is it that we have to have “permission” to talk. Thats a load of crap! The floor should be opened to “all” comments, not just from elected officials. Remember they can be voted out!

    • BWD

      Interest in retaining the structure. That ‘Interest’ and ‘Money’ are the issues. Community Interest is poor, except to a few people. Money is even more lacking than the taxpayer interest. That is the double-rub against this place….no matter how much a few may love it and want to keep it is some form.

      As far as a business deal…it is not a good one. There is nothing sound in it. Location, Location, Location.

      My earlier comment was just reflective of what these other so called rescue developers are really showing to the Council. No money to back of their ideas or plans.

      Now, everyone should be allowed their say…but the bottom line is still Money On The Table!

      The Money the Council does have is for its demolition and it comes with a time limit. Unless someone can PUT MONEY ON THE TABLE, so the existing demolition funding can be used for repair rather than demolition…..there is nothing to say…..

  • Christian V

    If you take 5 minutes to study Kirkbride architecture, you will find that the buildings directly behind and attached to the “horseshoe” are part of the original plan as are all segments of the horseshoe. Now I believe the gymnasium isnt original, however, the cafeteria is. As are all Wards and the original tower buildings. If you turn it on its side, it should look like an “E”. I would assume, as would any credible Kirkbride historian, that this MUST remain intact to be a possibility for state historical credits. with out the rear wards or Cafeteria, It is no longer consistent with a Kirkbride planned institution, and the architecture is no longer unique within this plan. I cannot emphasize how carefully the board members and the city members must tread in this line of thinking.. You aren’t talking a 5 million dollar demo loss, you are talking a 40 mil historical credit loss. Demo should be an absolutely last resort. As to the demo guy’s assessment of the property at the RTC, he’s not familiar with the condition of preserved kirkbrides, prior to their preservation. Traverse City sat vacant for at least 20 years and (I believe) Buffalo sat vacant for almost 30. The deterioration of both of these structures was far worse than the Fergus Falls structure. It may be, the best preserved vacant Kirkbride in the country, and one of the most unique. PLEASE keep these factors into consideration when wildly swinging demo plans around

  • Christian V

    And in case I was a bit confusing, I would think that all buildings connected to the main structure physically and aesthetically must remain to qualify as a complete Kirkbride Planned institution and qualify for state credits.

    • fergusnative

      I agree that demo should only be considered as the last option. However, the taxpayers were told (when the city took ownership) that the State Hospital property would not cost the city anything and there would be a sum of money from the state to either demo it or repair it. It is the council’s responsibility not to loose this money. The city would not loose 40 million in tax credits, a developer would. As of today, no qualified developer has come forth so I think the council is doing their job to protect our interests.

      • nanajean

        If the “City” hasn’t got alternative plans, and all this ends up being a huge case of conflict of interest. If this is how it bottoms out, then there will be a lot of State people involved that haven’t been yet.

  • Cinder103

    What there is to say is ALOT. How about get another extention this IS POSSIBLE IF they JUST ASK.The building is not hurting anyone or anything sitting up there as is right now. Also this time when asking for this extention make it a possible feat to people who want to develop this.

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