Archived Story

Despite protests, city has few roadblocks on RTC demo

Published 10:55am Wednesday, April 25, 2012

If the Fergus Falls City Council decides to demolish all or part of the city’s Kirkbride building, its legal ducks appear to be in a row. The city has had some of its paperwork pre-filed by the state of Minnesota.

When a building on the National Register of Historic Places is set to be demolished or significantly changed using public funding, the owner of the building typically is required to fill out an environmental assessment worksheet. The worksheet describes the project and submits to comments from the relevant state and federal agencies.

However, the state already submitted such a worksheet about 10 years ago, prior to turning over the state hospitals in Fergus Falls, Cass County and Willmar to their respective local government units (Cass County’s hospital was demolished, and Willmar’s was redeveloped into a business park). At the time, the state was considering demolishing the buildings.

“It’s the same set of issues that are being addressed, so I’m not aware that there would be any requirement for the city to perform that environmental assessment worksheet,” said Wayne Waslaski, representative of the Minnesota Department of Administration and a state official who has worked closely with the city on the Regional Treatment Center.

The pre-existing arrangement with the state might come in handy for the city if it goes the demolition route.

In a flyer created by the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota, people opposing the destruction of the building are encouraged to tell legislators that they don’t want state bonding dollars used to demolish historically significant buildings. Even if a movement to disallow such funding gained traction, said Waslaski, Fergus Falls would not be affected because the state’s grant contract with the city would predate any such law, and the contract states that the grant can be used for demolition.

“It’s really up to the local community to decide what they think is the right answer for each of the facilities,” he said, adding, “The bond funds in this case were already authorized.”

Still, said City Administrator Mark Sievert, any effort to attempt to defund the project is vexing.

“We’re certainly upset with that flyer; we believe that would definitely put the city of Fergus Falls at risk if we do have to tear it down,” he said.

The Preservation Alliance flyers are distributed at Kirkbride tours by the Friends of the Kirkbride. While Gene and Maxine Schmidt, two leaders of the Friends group, said they have spoken with Waslaski about the specifics of the grant, they have mostly focused their recent efforts locally, through letter writing to various media as well as to city officials.

“You seem to get nowhere,” said Gene of working with city officials. “It’s like butting your head against a brick wall.”

At the April 16 city council meeting, the Friends of the Kirkbride asked the city to invite a preservationist to its next RTC work session to talk about the building’s merits, and they asked the city to hire an outside marketing consultant to more effectively reach developers. Alderman JoEllen Thacker suggested that the Friends could raise the money for the consultant, but the Schmidts say that’s unnecessary when the city has approximately $880,000 in a fund for RTC upkeep and holding costs.

The council spent $30,000 of that money in 2011 when it tried to market the building to the last round of developers.

“They want us to raise money, and they have over $800,000 in their fund,” said Maxine.


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