A decision on the county-owned "north building" on the Wellington Place campus in Freeport could be made in the next few weeks, according to Winneshiek County Board of Sueprvisors Chairman John Logsdon.
The new Winneshiek County Board of Supervisors, along with some interested citizens, toured the county-owned north building on the Wellington Place campus in Freeport Monday afternoon.
Wellington Place Administrator Deb Vondersitt met with the supervisors in July to request the north building, which is attached to the Wellington Place care facility, be taken down. She said it doesn't meet state fire code and that Wellington Place officials have been given until May to bring the north building into compliance or Wellington Place will no longer be certified as a nursing facility.
Wellington Place is a privately run care facility near Freeport that leases property from the county for $1 per year.
Constructed in the 1880s, the north building is the last of the original county "poor farm" structures. Several county residents have expressed interest in keeping it, possibly "mothballing" it for future reuse. It hasn't been used to provide services to residents in more than two decades.
In December, the Board voted 3-2 to table a decision on whether to remove the building until the new Board took office.
Logsdon is the only supervisor who was re-elected last fall. New supervisors who took office earlier this month are Floyd Ashbacher, Dean Thompson, Dennis Karlsbroten and Mark Kuhn.
Logsdon said the purpose of Monday's tour was to let the supervisors see the condition of the north building and help them decide whether it should remain or be "recycled."
"Everyone has a different opinion," he said after the tour. "There are going to be costs involved no matter what. Arguments can be made either way."
Vondersitt said the state fire marshal has given Wellington Place until May to replace the sprinkler heads of the north building's sprinkler system. The estimated cost of the work is $6,835.
Wellington Place is connected to the north building by an annex that houses the facility's laundry. Because the sprinkler system for Wellington Place is tied to the north building, Wellington Place must heat the unoccupied north building at an annual cost of about $12,434.
Vondersitt told the supervisors Wellington Place has no use for the north building.
It's not handicapped accessible, and rats have been caught in the basement.
Ashbacher asked Vondersitt if Wellington Place would lose its license to operate if the improvements aren't made by May, and the administrator responded it would.
Ashbacher asked how many would be displaced if that occurred, and Vondersitt said more than 100 would have to move to other facilities.
Ashbacher also asked whether the wiring in the north building had been inspected, and Vondersitt said Wellington Place hasn't invested in such a study.
Dianna Berry, a Decorah business owner, asked if Wellington Place would keep its license if the sprinkler system were brought up to code and Vondersitt said it would.
Vondersitt said the $6,835 cost estimate is based on replacing sprinkler heads but not knowing what other problems with the system could be uncovered.
Thompson, who during previous discussions has expressed his interest in seeing the north building saved for reuse, said many citizens are concerned about losing a large, old building.
Logsdon said he didn't know if a suitable use could be found for the building that would be compatible with Wellington Place. He also said he's been unable to obtain the amount it would cost to mothball the north building.
Freeport resident Kevin Lee provided a "check list" of steps necessary to mothball a building. If properly maintained, it could be viable, he said.
Lee added the north building isn't old compared to many buildings on the east coast. He said the value of the building's bricks and mortar and the energy used in its construction, is "vast."
Janelle Pavlovec said she noticed Wellington Place was storing many items in the north building, and asked if a storage facility would have to be constructed if the north building were removed. Vondersitt said that decision would have to be made by the Wellington Place Board, but she said it would be nice to have a storage space for a Wellington Place bus.
Berry asked the supervisors how much revenue the north building would need to generate to be self-sufficient.
Logsdon said he didn't know. He said it would need to be brought up to code and an elevator would have to be installed. The roof eventually will need to be replaced, he said.
Asbestos being removed
The county recently paid $14,240 for asbestos removal in the north building.
The county has other bids for demolition of the building and related work from Bruening Rock Products of Decorah: demolition, $24,758; $75 per ton for landfilled material; $60 per load for fill materials; and $25,500 for rerouting a water line for Wellington Place.
Logson said the north building will likely be discussed again during Monday's Board meeting, and over the next few weeks the supervisors will need to decide whether to grant Wellington Place's request to dismantle it.