The Winneshiek County Historic Preservation Commission has planned a public hearing on the topic of the county's "north building" located on the Wellington Place campus in Freeport.
It's set for 6:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 28, at the Decorah Public Library meeting room.
Last May, the Winneshiek County Board of Supervisors held a public hearing on a request from Wellington Place to demolish the north building, which is connected to Wellington Place by an annex that houses a laundry room and a boiler. During the hearing, several citizens expressed interest in preserving the building.
Wellington Place is a privately run care facility that leases property from the county for $1 per year.
Wellington Place Administrator Deb Vondersitt has told the supervisors the state fire marshal has given the facility a deadline of May to bring the north building's sprinkler system up to code.
The supervisors have not yet made a decision on Wellington Place's request, and the matter was up for discussion again at Monday's Board meeting. Members of the Historic Preservation Commission told supervisors Monday the Commission is holding the public hearing later this month to take input on the north building topic.
Doing their job
Board of Supervisors Chairman John Logsdon said he didn't know if the Commission's hearing would affect the Board's decision. Since the north building has been discussed several times since Wellington Place asked to have it demolished, Logsdon said he thought the Commission would have held a hearing "way prior to this."
Supervisor Dean Thompson said the county ordinance that established the Historic Preservation Commission gives the Commission the responsibility of safeguarding the county's historic assets.
"The north building is listed on that original ordinance. They're (Commission) doing their job," he said.
"Why can't we have public input before the decision?" Julie Fischer of Decorah asked.
Logsdon said the Board has held one public hearing, two public discussions and any time the topic has been on the agenda, the Board has been open to discuss it.
"I'm interested in hearing if there's anything new. So far, I haven't heard anything new at all," Logsdon said.
Cost benefit analysis
Dave Stanley of Decorah said the Commission wants a cost-benefit analysis of the costs of allowing the north building to stand versus how many years it would take to recoup the cost of taking the building down.
Logsdon said he's maintained an "open file" on the north building expenses in the county auditor's office
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 to replace sprinkler heads and bring the system into compliance is $6,835.
Because the sprinkler system for Wellington Place is connected to the north building, Wellington Place must heat the unoccupied north building at an annual cost of about $12,434. 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 material taken to the landfill; $60 per load for fill materials; and $25,500 for rerouting a water line for Wellington Place.
Referring to the request for a cost/benefit analysis, Logsdon said it would cost $75,000 to $80,000 to take down the north building, which is costing $12,000 per year to heat.
"It's obvious it has electrical problems," he added.
Stanley, who said he was speaking not as a member of the Commission, but as a taxpayer, said he's concerned about the direct cost to taxpayers.
"How long can they expect a return on that money - to recoup those costs?" Stanley asked. "Can the county justify those expenditures? We haven't seen anything to suggest you can."
Commission member Roger Bergan said the Commission was told a cost analysis had been completed, but members have never seen it.
"It was not presented to us. Is there a cost analysis already done? Is it in the public record?" Bergen asked.
County Auditor Ben Steines responded many figures pertaining to the north building are in the public record, but they have not been compiled together into one document.
Logsdon said the group interested in preserving the north building hasn't come up with a use for it that's compatible with Wellington Place. To utilize the building would require the installation of an elevator, a new roof and other work, he said.
Stanley said he's not proposing the structure be saved but wants the cost benefit analysis available for the public at the Commission's hearing. If someone wants to reuse the building, they would have to prepare a similar document, he said.
Good to taxpayers
Logsdon, who has served as the supervisor liaison to the Wellington Place Board for several years, said the care facility has done "everything to treat the taxpayers right."
Before Healthcare of Iowa took over the management of the care facility in 2005, the county provided a $46,000 a year capital maintenance budget for Wellington Place.
"It's our building, our grounds, the county should be responsible," Logsdon commented.
But since 2005, Logsdon said because "things were going well" Wellington Place has only needed $6,000 of its $46,000 annual allotment from the county, resulting in a $320,000 savings to the county over the past eight years.
Wellington Place also paid for a new $138,000 roof, according to Logsdon, and will pay for a new $128,000 "chiller" for air-conditioning.
"They're picking up the tab. Why? I don't know," Logsdon said.
Stanley said as a nonprofit, Wellington place can't show a profit.
Logsdon responded Wellington Place has "plenty" of other ways the money could be spent to make improvements.
Thompson said safety for the care facility should be the first priority.
"It could be as little as a fire wall," he said.
Logsdon said because of its proximity to Wellington Place, a large fire suppression wall would be necessary.
The county needs more details, Thompson said.
"We don't know what the state fire marshal wants," he said.
Supervisor Floyd Ashbacher said typically the fire marshal provides a written compliance request.
"I haven't seen it," he said,
Steines said Wellington Place gave the supervisors a report on what the fire marshal told them.
"I think it was all informal and verbal," he said.
Logsdon said if the situation isn't dealt with by May, more than 100 employees at Wellington Place and more than 100 residents there will be impacted.
Logsdon was asked whether the fire marshal would come to Wellington Place and provide additional information.
"The fire marshal will come to visit. It's serious. This ain't no joke," Logsdon said.