City begins RTC demo discussionsPublished 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 The building’s electric, heating, and possibly plumbing systems are also out of date.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.