New London woman wants to save the old fish hatchery

NEW LONDON -- A New London business owner will be talking to the New London City Council tonight about saving the old fish hatchery building on Main Street.

NEW LONDON -- A New London business owner will be talking to the New London City Council tonight about saving the old fish hatchery building on Main Street.

The state Department of Natural Resources, which owns the building, has been planning this year to tear down the top portion of the building. The City Council considers the deteriorating building an eyesore and has prodded the DNR for years to repair it or tear it down.

Renee Jenniges, a New London business owner who lives in rural Spicer, has contacted the DNR about purchasing the building. She said she doesn't know yet what she would do with it, but she thinks the building should be preserved.

"That building has been part of New London since I can remember," Jenniges said.

The DNR told her she could purchase it for a nominal fee and move the top floor off the property, said Mark Friday, DNR building manager for southern Minnesota.


"I don't know if I could afford to do that," Jenniges said.

The DNR also suggested she ask the City Council if they support saving the structure. The council will consider Jenniges' plans tonight, and members will decide whether they want the demolition to continue as planned, city clerk Trudie Guptill said.

The DNR is reluctant to sell the building because its foundation acts as part of the nearby dam on the Mill Pond. The DNR is planning to tear down only the top portion of the building because the dam could fail if the foundation were removed.

The fish hatchery building may have to be demolished anyway if the dam is replaced, said John Strohkirch, DNR facility manager. The DNR wouldn't want to sell the building only to have to buy it back again, he said.

Leasing the building could also be difficult because the DNR then would need to make several improvements to it, such as making it handicap-accessible, Friday said. That work could cost $150,000 to $200,000, he said. In comparison, demolishing the building has been estimated to cost $60,000. Strohkirch said he doesn't take citizens' concerns lightly, however, and wants to "make sure everyone's on the same page" before the DNR decides to demolish the building.

He said he will talk to New London Mayor John Mack before the project goes out for bids. The DNR is planning to advertise the project at the beginning of October and open bids the third week of October. Demolition work could then start in November.

The DNR said earlier this year that the building would be demolished in October. But because the building and dam are connected, the DNR decided to consult with one of its three architects, who were also involved in 10 to 15 other projects throughout the state, Friday said.

"It's not intentional that we're not getting the project already done," he said.


The DNR would like to complete the project this year but isn't sure if the contractor would work through the winter, Friday said.

The fish hatchery was built in 1941 by the Works Progress Administration and was owned by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It was one of two federal fish hatcheries in the state.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service turned the building over to the DNR in 1996. The building is no longer used as a hatchery. In 2003, the wooden portion of the building was torn down. The building does not have water or sewer service.

Last year, the DNR offered to sell the building to the city for a small fee as long as it could maintain an easement on the property. Council members said the city would tear the building down if it owned it.

The council held a hearing last fall to get public input on the building's fate, but no one came to the meeting.

Jenniges said she heard about the hearing but thought there would be several people there who were interested in saving the building. Later, she heard no one was there.

"I'm thinking, 'Oh my gosh, I thought there would be so many people there,'" she said.

Jenniges said she isn't sure what the council will ask her tonight. She would like to save the building but doesn't know if it's possible.


"Everything is still so up in the air," she said.

The New London City Council meets at 5:30 p.m. today at the Fire Hall on 24 Central Ave. W.

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