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Resource Center's fate unknown

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News Worthington,Minnesota 56187 http://www.dglobe.com/sites/default/files/styles/square_300/public/fieldimages/4/0711/jacksoncountyresourcecenter1.jpg?itok=hOkwMwgP
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Resource Center's fate unknown
Worthington Minnesota 300 11th Street / P.O. Box 639 56187

JACKSON -- The fate of the Jackson County Resource Center remains in doubt after Tuesday's hearing, which ended with Judge Douglas Richards requesting lawyers for both Jackson County and the Jackson Preservation Alliance to deliver their closing statements to him in writing by 4:30 p.m. Friday.

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The judge will then determine whether to grant a temporary injunction preventing the county from demolishing its Resource Center, pending a lengthier and more detailed hearing on the matter.

"I think our attorney did a good job and our witnesses... showed what the building really is and how historical it is," said Cathy Buxengard, president of the Jackson Preservation Alliance. "I'm optimistic."

The fate of the Resource Center has been under contention for eight years, ever since 2002, when the county purchased the sprawling, interconnected structures, built mainly in 1938 and 1962.

Options have included demolishing the entire 82,900 square foot structure in favor of a new county services building, as well as demolishing one part of it or the other in order to remodel the rest.

The building was initially purchased to temporarily house county offices during a renovation of the adjacent courthouse, and also because the county simply wanted the land, which forms an L-shape around the existing courthouse. Over eight years, multiple committees examined more permanent solutions, with regard to both cost and functionality.

The county attempted to issue bonds for a new Resource Center facility to take the place of the 1938 portion of the Resource Center, but the measure failed at the polls in May. Then commissioners opted to demolish the 1938 part of the Resource Center to put up a much smaller Human Services building in its place, having sold the old Human Services building.

The Jackson Preservation Alliance filed a summons and complaint Sept. 28 in an effort to halt the demolition of the Resource Center, and obtained a temporary restraining order preventing the county from demolishing the 1938 building after a hearing on Nov. 5.

The case for preservation

Attorney Mark Anfinson, representing the Jackson Preservation Alliance, called three witnesses during Tuesday's hearing in the Jackson County Courthouse.

Anfinson's strategy hinged on showing that the Resource Center should be protected by the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act because of its historical significance, as determined by its eligibility for being listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

First to testify for the Jackson Preservation Alliance was Rolf Anderson, a professional historian whose background includes various evaluations and creating methods for the evaluation of historic structures and determining whether they would be eligible for listing on the National Registry of Historic Places.

Four criteria determine whether a site, building or object is eligible for inclusion on the Registry, Anderson said. First, it could have contributed significantly to historical events, at a local, state or national level. Second, it could be associated with a famous person of the past. Third, it could be of architectural significance, and fourth, it could be an archaeological site.

During his investigation of the Resource Center, Anderson read historical material about the building and visited it after he prepared a draft report for the Preservation Alliance.

"My conclusion is that it indeed met the registration requirements," Anderson said, relating the history of the Resource Center.

Attorney Jay Squires, representing Jackson County, questioned Anderson's report, which was only an initial draft written before he had set foot in the building and also contained images that did not represent the Resource Center's current condition. Squires also noted that despite the building's endangered status, no one has yet submitted the structure for inclusion on the National Registry.

Buxengard, a registered nurse who grew up in Jackson and graduated from the 1938 building, took the stand after Anderson, relating the building's history with the county. At issue were two separate petitions, the first of which had 900 signatures and prompted the Jackson County Board of Commissioners to table the Resource Center issue for a time. The second petition, with 500 signatures, forced the county to put the bond issue to a vote, which failed decisively at the polls and caused the board to opt for a smaller project that would not necessitate bonding. Both projects would have required that the 1938 building be demolished.

Buxengard also said the $25,000 bond the Preservation Alliance had posted in order to secure the restraining order against the county had been a hardship. Six members of the Alliance had written out $4,000 checks in order to raise the money, Buxengard explained, and if the court increased the bond for the temporary injunction -- which Jackson County Attorney Bob O'Connor believes is likely -- the Jackson Preservation Alliance could not pay.

Squires noted the small size of the Jackson Preservation Alliance as compared to the county's population and noted some of the group's members had been on the citizens' committee that had previously examined the Resource Center issue -- and had agreed to hold the building for 2 years in hopes of finding someone willing reclaim and repurpose the building. No such investor has been found, Squires indicated. He also suggested the economic downturn may have had an impact in the bonding measure's defeat at the polls, and noted that two candidates who supported saving the Resource Center had also been defeated at the polls.

Architect Dave Kane was Anfinson's final witness, and testified that he believed the 1938 building is more suitable for reuse than the 1962 building, which would not be demolished under the county's current plan. Kane suggested the county's studies had been incomplete and its numbers illegitimate, and that it had never really considered renovating and repurposing the 1938 building. Kane also criticized the project's cost estimates from Contegrity.

Squires in turn questioned how Kane could know whether county officials had considered saving the 1938 building and pointed out several studies that did include renovation of the 1938 building as an option. Squires also emphasized the importance of the design phase of the project, when an architect determines whether a project will meet a client's needs, and Kane said he was not aware of the county's needs.

The case for demolition

On behalf of Jackson County, Squires called County Coordinator Jan Fransen to the stand, where she described the history of the Resource Center, the county's facility needs and the multiple, extensive studies done on the issue by multiple committees of commissioners, county employees and citizens. Fransen said the demolition of the 1938 building and construction of a new building would best meet the county's needs, and that other options would not be as good in terms of security, staff efficiency and privacy for Jackson County Human Services clients.

Anfinson questioned the county's haste in moving Human Services out of its old building, which was sold to a local bank. He also questioned whether privacy and security concerns could be addressed through remodeling and reuse of the 1938 building. Anfinson also noted the new Human Services building is likely to be only the first phase of a two-or-three phase Resource Center project.

Next to testify on the county's behalf was Wold architect Nick Marcucci, the project manager, who spoke about the county's needs, the extensive examinations of the county's options and cost estimates for renovation versus building new. According to Marcucci, renovating the 1938 building in phases would be inefficient and costly. He also believed putting Human Services on two floors, as it would need to be if it were in a renovated 1938 building, would result in departmental inefficiency.

Anfinson questioned Marcucci's cost estimates, which Marcucci said were arrived at through experience, rules of thumb, comparisons to other projects and calls to material suppliers. Marcucci emphasized the importance of Jackson County's criteria for the project and the analysis of what option would best meet those criteria.

Pete Filippi of Contegrity Group Inc., which is performing construction management services for the project, was next to testify on behalf of Jackson County, defending Contegrity's cost estimates for asbestos removal and stating he did not believe the 1938 building could be remodeled with a $2.5 million budget. Filippi also noted the county had received an unusually low bid for demolition of the 1938 building, and if it were forced to re-bid the project because of a possible temporary injunction, the demolition could cost an additional $100,000. Delaying the project into winter construction could also cost the county an estimated $69,900, Filippi said.

Anfinson again questioned Filippi's cost estimates for the project, and noted the estimated cost of renovating the 1938 building was $136.17 per square foot, compared to the estimated $250 per square foot estimate for the new building. Anfinson suggested renovation was a significantly better deal, but Filippi said from a functionality standpoint, it was not, though he admitted he is not a functionality expert. Filippi said he believed construction costs could increase in the future.

Jackson County's final witness was Lisa Graphenteen of the Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership, who testified about a study on the Resource Center conducted by the Partnership and Community Partners Research. The study examined the possibility of renovating the building into combined retail and residence space, but concluded the $5 million-plus cost of the project was too high and demand for housing too low in the Jackson area.

"The rents that would have to be charged would greatly exceed what is currently being charged in the Jackson market," Graphenteen said.

Anfinson had no questions for her.

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