On a 4-1 vote Monday, the Winneshiek County Board of Supervisors voted to "deconstruct" the county's "north building" as requested by Wellington Place.

Supervisors John Logsdon, Floyd Ashbacher, Dennis Karlsbroten and Mark Kuhn voted in favor of the motion, which was made by Kuhn, while supervisor Dean Thompson voted against it.

Wellington Place is a county-owned, privately managed care facility attached to the north building by an annex. Last year, Wellington Place officials asked for the building to be taken down because its sprinkler system, which is attached to Wellington Place, does not meet state fire code, in addition to other safety concerns.

Before voting, the supervisors heard a report from members of the Winneshiek County Historic Preservation Commission that held a public hearing on the topic of the north building last week.



Commission comments

Commission member Dave Stanley said the Commission has not had the opportunity to discuss the hearing but commented none of the Commission members wants to see the building torn down.

"It's a significant historic asset. It's very unique. When it goes down, it's gone ... It reflects the history of caring for those who needed it in the county," he said, of the structure, which is the last remaining original county "poor farm" building.

It last served as the men's unit for the Winneshiek County Care Facility (now Wellington Place) in the early 1990s before the new care facility nursing unit was built. Since then, it's been used for storage.

Stanley said in his opinion, to mothball the building and rehabilitate it for reuse would cost "several hundred thousand dollars."

"There's no way volunteers can handle it," he said.

He also said there are "serious questions" about finding a reuse that is compatible with Wellington Place.

Stanley said spending money to preserve the north building would drain the county's resources for other historic preservation efforts. As an example, he said Fort Atkinson residents want to move a historic bridge that's being replaced there, and there are barns, country schools and other historic sites that could be preserved.

Instead of taking on "impossible tasks to save something that can't be saved," Stanley suggested the Commission start small. He said the county could set up a revolving grant fund to help save historic structures.



Hasty

Kyrl Henderson, a member of the Decorah Historic Preservation Commission, said since there are four new members of the Board of Supervisors who took office in January and because of the community interest in the north building, the decision about its future should be made carefully.

Wellington Place officials have told the supervisors the state fire marshal has given Wellington Place a deadline of May to bring the north building sprinkler system into compliance or lose it's nursing facility certification. Henderson said he's seen the fire marshal's most recent report, which said "nothing" about the north building.

He added the north building is assessed at $281,000, which is more than a figure previously presented to the public.

"When you have a $65,000 cost to remove a $280,000-plus asset, we should at least know what we are doing and why we are doing it. I feel the decision is being made in haste," he said.

Henderson suggested the Board take a step back to consider the facts.

"It's inappropriate for the Board of Supervisors to act on this at this time," he said.

Gerald Harvey of Decorah said the fire marshal's report only made reference to the sprinkler system in the kitchen in the main building.

"I see no reason to hurry up to get this building down," he said.

Harvey said if it were turned into a museum, the north building could bring in millions of dollars to the county through tourism.

"I hear a lot of maybes," Paul Hunter of rural Decorah said. "I still see no one willing from the private sector to save it ... I don't want the county footing this bill."

He said the Oneota Future Historic Alliance still owes the county more than $10,000 for demolition of the caretaker's house after the organization, which asked for the opportunity to save it, failed to find a use for the building or have it listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The county paid $10,400 toward removing the caretaker's house last year.

Commission member Steve Johnson said, personally, he would hate to see the building torn down.

"But you also have to have a business plan. You've got to come down to earth ... to show the realities of these things," he said,

"It's difficult to come up with a plan if you don't know if you have something to plan for. It would be useful to hear an attitude of cooperation. If we can all agree we have an asset, it could be a help to the community," said Julie Fischer of Decorah.



Supervisors deliberate

Before making his motion to remove the north building, Kuhn said the cost to rehabilitate or mothball the building "is incredible."

"I agree there are things worth saving, but there seems to be a lack of funds to carry through with some of these projects in a timely fashion ... I have had no support from any of my constituents to keep this building," Kuhn said.

Thompson asked what Kuhn's mothballing costs were based on.

Kuhn said the estimated cost of a new steel roof alone is $11,600.

"It needs a roof soon. The insulation in the roof is full of bat manure. The pipes are leaking downstairs, windows are out," Kuhn said

Thompson said the Historic Preservation Commission was created by county ordinance in 1985 which also identified important county sites, including the north building.

"Personally I find it to be an attractive feature in Freeport -- one of the last historic buildings out that way," he said.

If allowed to stand, Thompson said the north building's fire suppression, broken windows and other concerns could be "immediately fixed."

"I don't see pushing it over yet," he said.

Ashbacher said there isn't a plan for reusing the north building, and if there were a plan, it might not be acceptable to Wellington Place.

Logsdon said to reuse the structure would require "100 percent gut and replace."

"To make it habitable, the cost would be astronomical," he said.

Karlsbroten said he polled 40 to 50 people for their opinions on the topic.

"One person told me to save the building," he said.