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Repairs alone total $800,000, and readying Willmar City Auditorium for reuse could top $3 million

A report detailing the condition of the Willmar City Auditorium shows repair costs ranging into hundreds of thousands of dollars, and construction costs for the potential reuse of the Works Progress Administration building could range from $620,000 to $3.62 million. Grant funding and tax credits are available.

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Portions of the Willmar City Auditorium are starting to see some signs of wear, including the cracking of the cast concrete relief panels that adorn the front of the Works Progress Administration building.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune
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WILLMAR — The Willmar City Auditorium is in overall good condition, but there is more than $800,000 in repairs needed just to maintain it, according to a recently completed report.

In order to improve the building enough for reuse, the cost will be another $620,000 to $3.62 million to include developing a reuse plan and creating construction documents, as well as making the building accessible on all floors and installing a sprinkler system.

Repairs and reconstruction of the building could allow for its reuse as offices, a business incubator or other community uses.

The total cost for repairs and maintenance as well as the required reconstruction for reuse will be approximately $1.43 million to $4.48 million.

The report was presented by Todd Grover of MacDonald & Mack Architects.

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“I was really honored to be able to take a look at this building. It’s just a gem, but there are some issues with the building,” Grover said during his report to the Willmar City Council during its Aug. 15 meeting.

No action on the report was taken. Now that the city knows the priorities for needed repairs, it can begin to seek funding sources as it explores options for the building's future use.

There are grants that can be sought through the Minnesota Historical Society, as well as tax credits that can assist in financing projects in historical buildings.

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Paint chips along a window sill on the front side of the City Auditorium on Thursday, Sept. 1, 2022, in Willmar.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune

The study of the building was commissioned by the city of Willmar to assess the building's current conditions, recommend repairs and prioritize repairs to provide guidance for future planning.

Field surveys were conducted in November 2021, and Grover met with city representatives to examine current use, assess problematic conditions, understand recent projects and discuss potential future steps.

Grover also met with Rolf Anderson while compiling his report. Anderson is an expert on Works Progress Administration architecture across the state and wrote the report that accompanied the application for the building to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places. He told Grover that the Willmar Auditorium was one of his favorite WPA buildings.

The good

While Grover's main purpose was to identify to the council the needed repairs for the building, he also noted the positives of the building.

For instance, the new heating, ventilating, and air conditioning system installed after a previous assessment in 2014 is in good condition and may be able to be reused when a new use for the building is found.

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The gym floor and the stage are not in need of repairs, and the historic integrity of the building and the Memorial Room are all in great shape, he added.

The gymnasium is used by people in the community for basketball, pickleball and other activities, and there is one city office located on the second floor. Other than that, the building is not used. The gun range located in the basement has been shut down and the equipment sold.

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Portions of the Willmar City Auditorium are starting to see some signs of wear, including the cracking of the cast concrete relief panels that adorn the front of the Works Progress Administration building, shown Thursday, Sept. 1, 2022.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune

The bad

“This report that I was working on looked at some more of the broader conditions of the building,” Grover told the council, noting it also identifies some of the next steps that should take place.

One concern identified by Grover is the cracking of the cast concrete relief panels that adorn the front of the building. The historic drawings of the building do not indicate how the panels were installed, which would be helpful in identifying the cause of the cracking, he said.

The cracking of the panels is not taking place at the joints, which leads Grover to believe they were precast on the ground and then attached with grout and anchoring devices made of steel coming out of the back of the panels, he said.

“I think we are seeing some form of rust jacking,” Grover added. “Water has gotten behind there and where some of these anchors are, we’re having some rusting, so the pushing and pulling where some of the anchoring points are (created the cracks).”

One way to find out if his theory is correct is to use ground penetrating radar, which will pick up where any steel anchors may be.

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“By figuring that out — do the panels get disassembled and then re-anchored? Can they stay in place and be fixed? That’s part of this next study that we have to dive in a lot deeper,” he said.

Immediate priorities for the panels are to examine the cause of the cracking and install crack monitors, which will cost approximately $8,000 and $3,000, respectively. The short-term priority would be to repair the decorative panels, which will cost approximately $65,000.

Some structural issues that need to be examined further include cracks in the balconies and cracks in the stucco of the east wall. He noted the crack in the east wall is something that should be examined as soon as possible to figure out if it is a major structural issue or just some cracks in the stucco.

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The exterior of the Willmar Auditorium shows signs of wear, including the cracking of the cast concrete WPA relief panels that adorn the front of the building.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune

Immediate priorities are to investigate and repair the stucco on the east wall and assess the cracking in the balcony, which will cost approximately $45,000 and $8,000, respectively. The short-term priority is repairing the balcony structure at a cost of approximately $40,000.

Another concern was to examine where water may be getting into the building and making needed repairs to stabilize the building.

The 2014 report on the building noted the roof was limited in its lifespan, and it is now in very poor condition and needs replacing, according to Grover.

An examination needs to take place of the 80- to 90-year-old gutters and downspouts used to get water off the roof of the building and underground to the storm sewer, as it is unclear how well that system is currently functioning, he said. There is a lot of water infiltration happening in the basement directly related to the location of the downspouts.

The immediate priorities are to replace the roof, gutters and downspouts at a cost of approximately $120,000. It is also an immediate priority to televise the storm drain at a cost of approximately $3,000. The short-term priority is to repair stormwater drainage at a cost of $15,000 to $60,000.

Another area where water is getting into the building is through the old masonry, specifically around the windows, according to Grover. Although they have been replaced at some point in time, the windows are currently deteriorating and water is getting into the building's substructure.

Replacing the windows at a cost of approximately $230,000 is a short-term priority. Repairing the masonry and stone casting on the outside of the building is an immediate priority and will cost approximately $240,000, according to Grover.

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The Willmar Auditorium, pictured here on Thursday, September 1, 2022, is in overall good condition, but there are some major repairs that need to take place in order to maintain it.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune

Another thing that needs to be addressed is making the building accessible under the Americans with Disabilities Act, of which the biggest expense would be the installation of an elevator.

“It’s not in dire need by any means. It’s a really, really hefty substantial building, but these are some needed repairs that happen with every building in time,” he said.

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Jennifer Kotila is a reporter for West Central Tribune of Willmar, Minnesota. She focuses on local government, specifically the City of Willmar, and business.

She can be reached via email at: jkotila@wctrib.com or phone at 320-214-4339.
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The Tribune publishes Records as part of its obligation to inform readers about the business of public institutions and to serve as a keeper of the local historical record. All items are written by Tribune staff members based on information contained in public documents from the state court system and from law enforcement agencies. It is the Tribune’s policy that this column contain a complete record. Requests for items to be withheld will not be granted.