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Update: Shots fired outside Zorbaz in Spicer early Sunday

Willmar Council opts against trade scenario relating to Garfield School

WILLMAR -- The Willmar City Council is saying no thanks to the Willmar School District's offer of trading Garfield School in exchange for waiving the Roosevelt School street assessments.

However, the council is interested in acquiring the green space adjacent to Garfield.

The council voted Tuesday night to tell the school district that the city is not in a position to assume ownership of Garfield, but would be interested in the green space on the south half of the property.

The vote was recommended by the council's Public Works/Safety Committee.

The school district, looking to sell two of three former elementary buildings, offered Garfield in exchange for waiving all or a portion of the city's cost of constructing the Roosevelt School road, according to City Administrator Michael Schmit.

The council considered using Garfield for office space. A feasibility study by Engan and Associates of Willmar estimated the renovation cost for office use at $2.8 million, or two-thirds the cost of a new building. Garfield has 28,768 square feet of space, compared with 25,914 square feet for the combined City Offices, council chambers at the Municipal Utilities Building and WRAC studios.

After being told last week that Garfield was nominated for the Minnesota Preservation Alliance's 10 Most Endangered Historic Places list, the committee indicated it was no longer interested in the building.

However, committee member Rick Fagerlie suggested the city discuss with the school district the possibility of acquiring the south half for park purposes.

In an earlier interview, Fagerlie said he was "looking out for the neighbors'' who support recreational use of the open space. When the site was proposed for a storm water detention pond, the neighbors opposed the idea.

If the city doesn't get the south half and the district sells the building and open space, the entire parcel will probably be rezoned and redeveloped into something else and the park area will become a parking lot or have buildings on it, Fagerlie said.

The city learned of the nomination last month. The 1938 building was nominated by Beverly Dougherty, project coordinator for the Willmar Design Center.

During the Public Works Committee report Tuesday night, council members were told that including Garfield on the list would place remodeling restrictions on the building.

However, Schmit said he heard that the Alliance has apparently opted to not include Garfield on the list. Schmit said he was unable to confirm the decision and did not know if the decision would affect the council's decision.

"Based on all the discussion and study that we've had in the last several months, I think that is a good motion,'' he said.

The city is already dealing with the possible historic designation of another local building. That building is the deteriorating 1941 terminal at the old airport. A state agency says the terminal is eligible for placement on the National Register of Historic Places.

The city is appealing the eligibility, saying it's not historic and would require an estimated $600,000 to $1.3 million in repairs to make it usable and habitable.

The keeper of the National Register of Historic Places is considering the city's appeal and a decision is expected soon.

Dougherty, in a written application submitted to the Alliance in early January, said her nomination was based on not knowing the future of the school. But the Alliance, a private, non-profit organization, backed off after learning that any threat to the building was not imminent, according to a spokesperson.

Erin Hanafin Berg, Alliance field representative, said she talked last week to Willmar School Superintendent Jerry Kjergaard who clarified the district has no plans right now to vacate the school or to do anything else with it, but will continue using it for classes. Three of the district's alternative programs are located at Garfield.

"It seems that the threat that was suggested in the nomination ... is not really very imminent and we just encourage the school district and the city or anybody else who's interested to really consider the potential for historic designation for the school and also conduct a reuse study before it's closed and no longer in service,'' said Berg.

Berg said she can understand the city's trepidation over the old airport terminal.

"Unfortunately, just because things went badly with one project doesn't necessarily mean this one couldn't have a better outcome, especially since hopefully they're a little more informed about the opportunities and responsibilities of owning an historic property,'' said Berg.

She said a national register reviewer would evaluate the school's historic eligibility. Schools are tricky, however, because there are so many of them, she said.

"There's not even anything to say at this point that it is historic. There would still need to be that evaluation,'' said Berg.

She said reuse grants and tax credits are now available. As long as the essential form and historic qualities remain, the interior could be rehabilitated for any number of uses such as housing and offices or it could continue as a school.

Kjergaard said the nomination surprised him, but he said the district will continue using Garfield for the foreseeable future. Kjergaard said he talked to Berg and indicated the district preferred not being named or put on any list.

"As far as I'm concerned it's not endangered since we're going to use it for the same thing it's been used for for many years,'' he said. "It's just the idea that all of a sudden if it become part of a list, it becomes that much more difficult for somebody else to buy it and be able to use for whatever they want to use it for.''

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150
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