Clarkfield to decide fate of former gymnasium: Save it for business opportunity, or reduce taxpayer risk by razing it
CLARKFIELD — City Council members in Clarkfield are facing a costly decision on how much risk to take in the interest of community development.
The council members must decide, possibly as early as their regular meeting this Tuesday, whether to approve the demolition of the entire 144,000 square feet of buildings that once comprised the elementary, junior and senior high school facilities in the community of approximately 850 residents.
Yellow Medicine County has received a $474,860 bid from Landwehr Construction of St. Cloud to remove all of the structures. The county and city would split the costs under the terms of an earlier agreement. The bid price is almost one-half of what had been expected.
The city and county would also split the costs for removing asbestos that remain in the structures. That cost is unknown pending completion of an engineering report, but it is believed the cost will range anywhere from $100,000 to $300,000.
Or, the city has the option of preserving the west gymnasium area and approving a $499,100 bid from Frattalone Companies Inc., Inver Grove Heights, to remove all of the remaining school structures.
Saving the gymnasium would require the city to invest funds in repairing a wall and other upgrades, raising the city's overall share of costs. The county and city would also have the as-of-yet undetermined asbestos removal costs.
Kindra Lindblad of Dawson, owner of the Redemption Basketball Academy, wants to purchase the gymnasium, she and supporters told City Council members at a hearing held Thursday evening. Lindblad said she is aware that the gymnasium will require an investment on her part, including the possible need of replacing its roof in a few years time.
She told council members that finding a vacant gymnasium is like a "gold mine" for her. She has been hosting basketball academies for students in area schools ranging from Canby to MACCRAY, often using space in a church in Dawson.
"She's extremely community-driven,'' said Mayor Zachery Hendrickson when introducing Lindblad and her proposal. He urged council members to consider keeping the gymnasium, pointing out that "these is a lot of risk with whatever we want to do."
The county has 45 days from the mid-May opening of the bids for the school demolition to award them. Yellow Medicine County Commissioner Gary Johnson told council members that a decision is needed so that one of the bids can be awarded before the end of June. Otherwise, he warned, the vacant buildings would remain standing for years to come.
With the exception of the west gymnasium, the other school buildings are considered beyond repair. They are mold-infested and have widespread water damage. Two brothers from Iceland and their families had owned and lived in the structures, but hastily departed in December 2014. The four-acre campus has since been forfeited for taxes.
There is a possibility the city could take advantage of a tax increment finance project to help cover the costs for demolishing the structures if the gymnasium is sold to Lindblad, Janel Timm, Yellow Medicine County property and public services director, told council members on Thursday. At this point there is no way to know a value for the gymnasium. It would have to be placed for sale as a tax-forfeited property.
Some 40 people attended the hearing, and feelings on what to do ran the gamut. The city had originally explored the possibility of saving the gymnasium to use as a community center. City Administrator Amanda Luepke advised against it. She said city finances could not support it.
Some of those attending the hearing said the city needs more opportunities for youth and adults to get together.
"If you have empty lots all over town, is that going to bring people in?" asked one woman.
Resident Bob Schlenner urged the council to tear the entire complex down. He warned that the expenses of upgrading and maintaining the gymnasium would be too burdensome for Lindblad to make a go of it. "I wouldn't want the poor girl to do it," he said.
The county had spent $280,000 removing a former whey-drying plant when a business venture in it failed, he and others pointed out.
He urged the city to take the lower-cost option of clearing the entire site for the sake of taxpayers.
"There are so many things the city can spend the money on other than that building," said Schlenner.
The city will need to sell a 15-year bond to finance its share of the overall costs no matter the choice. Luepke said an analysis showed the annual tax impact on a $100,000 residential property would range from about $75 for the lowest cost option, to nearly $125 for the higher cost option of saving the gym.
Commissioner Johnson told the meeting participants that a county task force has spent three years looking at all of the options it could for the site. It pursued grant opportunities and met with entrepreneurs who had expressed interest in it. The county and city also sought state help with the removal costs, but had no success.
The costs to remove the structures will only be greater if the city and county don't take advantage of the bids that must now be decided on, he reminded council members.
"If it doesn't happen this time, it is going to stand," he said of the structures.