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City awaits Auditorium lead testing results (includes documents)

Signs throughout the Willmar City Auditorium announce the closing of the facility’s indoor playground and shooting range because of ventilation issues. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

WILLMAR — Willmar officials are awaiting test results on lead dust and lead paint samples taken a couple of weeks ago at the downtown City Auditorium after a problem with the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system serving the basement rifle and pistol shooting range surfaced in late August.

The problem with the ventilation system was discovered during a routine safety inspection by Safe Assure, a Willmar company contracted by the city to investigate and identify possible federal occupational health and safety violations in city buildings.

As part of the inspection, it was determined that the air handling system serving the range was not working properly. As a result, the shooting range and children’s playground located next to the range were closed until further notice.

The main floor and other parts of the building remain open.

City Administrator Charlene Stevens said the city didn’t really know quite how long the ventilation system had not been functioning properly, “so we felt it was important to do some testing to determine if we had any areas of concern.’’

City Clerk-Treasurer Kevin Halliday said Braun Intertec took samples a couple of weeks ago. Braun Intertec has headquarters in Minneapolis and an office in St. Cloud. Halliday said he had hoped the results would be returned by the end of last week.

Stevens and Halliday gave an update on the shooting range during last week’s City Council meeting. Council member Ron Christianson requested the update.

The council in September gave city officials approval to conduct a ventilation and lead contamination study of the gun range and Auditorium.

Also, the council allowed the Willmar Rifle and Pistol Club to perform general cleaning including removal of spent lead and brass from the last shoot. The range has since been closed.

The Auditorium was constructed by the Works Progress Administration in 1936-37. Forty years later, the range was established in a collaborative project of the city and the Willmar Rifle and Pistol Club. Construction of the range began in the fall of 1977 and was completed in May 1978.

The history of the shooting range is detailed in a two-page story written by Verne Carlson, former city engineer, and printed in the March 1980 edition of American Rifleman, a publication of the National Rifle Association.

A long-term management agreement, renewed periodically, between the city and club spells out the duties and responsibilities of each party.

The club will provide trained range managers, provide instructors for various training programs, recommend usage fees, and provide general clean-up.

The city agrees, among other things, to permit public use of the range only when supervised by certified and qualified range managers furnished by the club, permit the club to use the training area and be sole user of the vault for storing guns, ammunition and other equipment and supplies.

The agreement also spells out range rules and types of firearms and ammunition permitted on the range.

In an interview, Stevens said she couldn’t say what would happen next.

“What we’re waiting for is the test results and then I think that will tell us what we need to do in the building,’’ she said. “Based on those test results, we’ll determine the next steps and the course of action.’’

Apart from that study, the city is also working on the air handling system for the range itself, said Stevens. “Without the air handling system the range can’t function right now,’’ she said.

Also, Halliday is obtaining proposals from mechanical engineers for the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system.

Lead exposure at a shooting range can come from a number of sources, according to the website

Those include:

- The primer compound, which is made of about 50 percent lead-containing compounds.

- The effect of the hot propellant gases on the base of the lead bullet.

- Friction of the bullet against the barrel wall.

- Fragmentation of the bullet against the target and backstop.

To minimize the risk of lead poisoning, the website suggests among other things that shooters use copper-covered bullets and do not shoot in a poorly ventilated indoor range.

The management agreement between the city and the Willmar Rifle and Pistol Club can be viewed here or at the link above.

The American Rifleman article can be viewed here or at the link above.

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