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New master plan addresses maintenance, repair issues at historic Willmar City Auditorium

Relief sculpture panels adorn the space above the Willmar City Auditorium’s front entrance. These sculptures on the front facade are damaged due mostly to the effects of winter climate. That is just one of many detailed findings included in a new master plan that looks out 10 to 15 years. Some of the recommended work for the building may never be completed, depending on city decisions about ongoing use of the building. (Tribune photo by Ron Adams) 1 / 2
The Willmar City Auditorium is shown Thursday. A new master plan for the building details maintenance and repair needs. (Tribune photo by Ron Adams) 2 / 2

WILLMAR — The well-constructed City Auditorium, built by the Works Progress Administration between 1936 and 1937 in downtown Willmar, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and continues to provide long-term value for the city.

In order to extend the life and expand the use of the building, however, a master plan has been developed by local architectural consultant Engan Associates at the request of the City Council that identifies numerous needed upgrades and improvements.

The council in December hired Engan after the city closed the privately operated firing range located in the Auditorium basement due to malfunction of the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system.

At the same time, access to other areas of the building was limited due to concerns regarding lead contamination from the firing range’s heating and ventilation system. Since that time, testing revealed the shortfalls of the firing range’s technology and HVAC system.

The recently completed plan was discussed for the first time by the council’s Public Works/Safety Committee. The committee voted this week to proceed with two initial steps as recommended in the plan.

The first step is lead abatement, estimated at $115,500. The step will involve cleaning, which will remove the duct work and HVAC equipment.

The second step, estimated at $190,410, would be to add ventilation equipment back into the building, which will return the Auditorium to the condition before the abatement work.

The plan says completion of the first and second steps, estimated at a total of $305,910, is required before anything else can be done to the building. The council budgeted $250,000 for Auditorium work in the 2014 list of capital improvement projects.

The plan also estimates the cost of various other upgrades and maintenance improvements, but doesn’t provide a grand total. That’s because the plan is not a one-year project but is a master plan looking at 10 to 15 years, explained Engan Associates architect Andrew Bjur.

He said some of the work may not occur and some of it may occur depending on how the city wants to use the building.

“Not all of the work is required right away. We didn’t grand total it up because it wasn’t that kind of document. It was to place projects in front of the council so they can make decisions in the future on how to utilize the building and how to address maintenance issues,’’ he said.

The plan describes work needed in various areas, such as the substructure, superstructure, exterior masonry walls, main floor, second floor, third floor, attic, windows, doors and roofing, to return the building to operable condition.

For example, the low-relief sculptures on the front façade are damaged due mostly to the effects of winter climate; some windows need repair and painting; and a historical renovation could include replacement of current windows with new wood windows with a pattern similar to the original, historic windows.

Also, surface and downspout water is leaking through walls and damaging brick and interior finishes.

Regarding the water infiltration problem, the committee voted to address gutter and downspout repairs estimated at $30,000. The work would meet Minnesota State Historical Society restoration standards. The staff was directed to take funding for the repair from another project in this year’s capital improvement plan.

Also, the committee wants city staff to review Americans with Disabilities Act mandates that would be required by implementing steps 1 and 2.

Committee members voted 3-1 to proceed with the improvements. Voting in favor were Audrey Nelsen, Bruce DeBlieck and Steve Ahmann. Voting against was chairman Ron Christianson.

Christianson said he wanted to proceed with step 3, which was renovation of the firing range, observation area and training room, estimated at $254,087, with an additional $30,000 to repair the existing bullet trap and install new ballistic blocks to protect columns.

The other committee members agreed that steps 1 and 2 should be completed first and then meet with the Willmar Rifle and Pistol Club to decide if the Auditorium or another site should be the location of the firing range.

The committee directed staff to meet with the club to determine their commitment to the firing range with increased fees and operational activities.

Read more details about the master plan here, and find a link to the entire 26-page plan.

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