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Committee recommends City Council declare old airport terminal unsafe

WILLMAR -- The Willmar City Council's Community Development Committee is recommending the council declare the old airport terminal building unsafe.

The committee will also recommend the council request that the Federal Aviation Administration immediately release the terminal property to the city to allow for abatement of the health hazard and demolition.

The council will receive the recommendations at 7 p.m. Monday in the chambers at the Municipal Utilities Building.

The recommendations are based on inspections by city staff and on a consultant's evaluation of moisture intrusion and interior mold problems.

Committee members on Thursday received a copy of the Sept. 8 evaluation by Environmental Process Inc. of Golden Valley.

Committee members also received memos from City Building Official Randy Kardell. Kardell wrote that Environmental Process's report clearly indicates that the amount and type of mold tested could be hazardous. Kardell said the building constitutes a hazard to health, safety and public welfare.

On Oct. 15, Kardell placed "do not enter or occupy'' signs on the building. He said the structure will require a formal council declaration as an unsafe building. After the declaration, Kardell said he will permanently placard the building as unsafe and dangerous.

"With the information contained in the mold report, I could order the building to be permanently vacated,'' Kardell said.

If the council approves, city staff will provide a copy of the mold report to FAA and will substantiate the reasons behind the council's action, said Bruce Peterson, director of city planning and development services.

The city has been seeking FAA's release of the property since the new airport opened in September 2006 and has wanted to demolish the building and sell the property to a nearby steel fabricating company.

However, the release has been held up by a military museum group's offer to use the building as an assembly or museum site and FAA's request for a professional historical analysis and historic preservation easement due to the terminal's connection to a long-time aviation family.

During discussion, committee chairman Bruce DeBlieck asked if the museum group is still interested.

Peterson said he has not heard from the group for a long time.

Committee member Steve Ahmann said there's no way to preserve the terminal after reading all the deficiencies.

"I think you guys are on the right track,'' he said.

The old terminal building was vacated but had been used by Bergh's Fabricating Inc. for material storage.

The city initiated the land release process with FAA and prepared an environmental assessment, but FAA was not satisfied and required the assessment to be redone accompanied by professional historical analysis of the terminal.

The city was pursuing demolition but the process was delayed by a military museum group that offered to use the building. The interest triggered the need for a historic preservation easement and precluded demolition, according to Peterson.

Before the museum group became involved, the city had a buyer that wasn't interested in preserving the terminal and a purchase agreement was signed, Peterson said. All agreed that demolition was the best course of action because the building was in poor condition caused by physical and structural deficiencies.

While the city was pursuing the land release and reluctantly the preservation easement, the FAA required the city to hire a consultant to analyze the mold problem.

The analysis found mold likely has been present for some time, due to building construction type, maintenance, age, and water infiltration problems. The company said the mold problem has escalated since the building was vacated.

Besides widespread mold, the company found numerous deficiencies in the roofing and exterior concrete masonry walls and interior finishes. The company did not evaluate the heavy timber bow roof trusses, but said the trusses looked weathered with bolt corrosion and wood discolored from age and moisture and should be evaluated.

The company recommended "do not enter or occupy'' signs be posted and that several major health, safety and structural issues be addressed to assure continued safe use.

Peterson said cost estimates for basic rehabilitation ranged from $600,000 to $1.3 million, depending on the building's use.

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