GRANITE FALLS — Despite one last appeal, the west gymnasium of the former Clarkfield School will be razed.
The Yellow Medicine County Board of Commissioners voted four-to-one on Tuesday in favor of razing the west gymnasium while the contractor who has torn down the remainder of the school facilities is still on site. The motion by commissioners Greg Renneke and Gary Johnson keeps the county as a partner with the City of Clarkfield in splitting the costs for removing the school facilities. In this case, the motion also states the county would pick up any additional costs over the $503,000 that the city had bonded for its share of demolition costs.
Clarkfield council members voted last week, also four-to-one, to demolish the gymnasium. The city had intended to save the gym and sell it to the owner of the Redemption Basketball Academy of rural Dawson. They learned last week that Academy owner Kendra Lindblad, 26, was charged with two, class three felony charges of sexual misconduct in South Dakota.
Adding the west gym to the demolition project could add $52,575 to the total demolition costs. That includes a $20,900 estimate to remove asbestos from its roof, although testing must be done to confirm that there is asbestos in the roof.
With the gymnasium removal, the overall costs for the school demolition project could total $1,020,840.58, according to Janel Timm, property and public services director for Yellow Medicine County. That leaves the county and city with equal bills of $510,420.29.
The final appeal to save the gym came from Clarkfield City Council member Dale Stringer Jr. He told the commissioners that since the council voted last week to demolish the gym, he’s had over 100 phone calls from citizens hoping to save it. He said callers told him: “The council absolutely made the wrong decision.”
Stringer said most citizens had expected the gym to be saved as a community center. Many of the callers said they were willing to work on finding a way to make that happen. Stringer was the lone vote on the council for sparing the gym.
The City of Clarkfield had sent out surveys to 651 residents in November 2017 asking them whether they wanted to save the gym or not, according to City Administrator Amanda Luepke. The survey did not include cost estimates. The city received 94 responses, with 55 stating they favored saving the gym, she told the commissioners.
The city and county agreed to remove asbestos and tear down the buildings this past year. The west gymnasium was in good shape because power had been restored and it was kept heated after volunteers repaired its flooring. The other buildings had been without heat for four years and were in very dilapidated conditions. A consultant had warned the city and county that if they delayed one more year, it would have been too late to safely remove the asbestos. In that case, the city and county would have faced the costs of bringing all of the building debris to a hazardous waste landfill, commissioner Johnson pointed out.
He and other commissioners also noted that if the county did not support the removal of the west gymnasium, the building would end up being the county’s responsibility. The council’s vote to tear it down made it clear the city was not willing to assume responsibility for it. “If we don’t, we own it,” said Johnson of the choice of voting to tear it down or not.
The commissioners also cited their reluctance to go against the wishes of the city council. New board chair John Berends said the council’s vote to tear it down should be supported. He cast the lone vote against the motion to tear it down, but not because he opposed doing so. He said he was concerned about taking on costs above the agreed upon 50 percent split.
The commissioners instructed Timm to oversee the removal and distribution of salvageable items from the gym. Maple wood bleachers, an electronic scoreboard, hardwood flooring, lockers and retractable basketball hoops are among the inventory. Two large heaters will be removed and used by the county and city.
Timm estimates the county has no more than two weeks to remove what can be saved before the contractor tears it down.