Controlled burn guts courthouseALEXANDRIA — As a thick, black column of smoke stretched skyward from the Hanson County Courthouse, Don Wenande stood across the street and watched the intentional flames burn away a piece of local history.
By: Austin Kaus The Daily Republic, Worthington Daily Globe
ALEXANDRIA — As a thick, black column of smoke stretched skyward from the Hanson County Courthouse, Don Wenande stood across the street and watched the intentional flames burn away a piece of local history.
“It’s sad to see it go, but everybody knows it’s not usable anymore,” he said. “We had to do something to move it forward.”
Wenande, a lifelong resident of rural Alexandria, was one of many residents who flocked to the courthouse Monday afternoon to watch a controlled fire gut the 1905 building that in August was deemed structurally unsound.
Courthouse employees have moved to temporary offices throughout the city and in November, Hanson County voters approved the issuance of $3.41 million in bonds to help pay for a new building. The vote was a death knell for the old courthouse.
Ideal weather conditions Monday led to the decision to begin the controlled burn at 3:30 p.m. As he monitored the burn from the cab of his pickup, Hanson County Highway Superintendent Clinton Degen said he was pleased with the ideal weather conditions, including a very light wind that didn’t disturb the smoke and kept scattered debris to a minimum.
By 6 p.m., the wooden roof had collapsed, and the flames that had danced above the town’s horizon had shrunken considerably.
“You couldn’t have a better day,” Degen said.
Degen said the building will be demolished later and noted that the building’s condition left planners with no option other than demolition.
Still, it was hard to see a piece of Alexandria’s history go up in flames, he said.
Prior to the burning, Degen and others cleared out numerous documents and other items from the courthouse.
Dar Englemeyer, deputy register of deeds, said she was sad to see the building go. She took pictures throughout the courthouse before relocating to her temporary office.
Still, Englemeyer said she knew the building’s time had passed.
“Working in there, you knew the structural problems it had,” she said. “The floors were uneven. It was bad.”
Gloria Kunkel served as deputy auditor for a decade. She said she had mixed feelings about the building’s final days. Earlier, Kunkel laid claim to a set of 14-inch panels that are now part of a wall at home.
Both Kunkel and Englemeyer credited longtime maintenance worker Brenda Steilen for her dedication and vigilance in keeping the building functional.
“She filled in the cracks,” Kunkel said.
“That’s why they didn’t know the structural issues, I think, because she had it so nice and clean,” Englemeyer said.
As they spoke, small, blackened pieces of a building served by Steilen and countless other employees in Hanson County history floated softly to the street.