Building bickering: Windom divided over proposed emergency services/fire hall facility

WINDOM -- City leaders and residents are at odds over a plan to build a new emergency services/fire hall facility at a site currently home to a municipal park.

WINDOM -- City leaders and residents are at odds over a plan to build a new emergency services/fire hall facility at a site currently home to a municipal park.

Windom City Administrator Steve Nasby said the city council has a number of different financing options to consider with the new building, which would replace the current fire hall facility. Some city residents, however, oppose not only the location and cost of the new structure, but also the mechanism in which the project may be funded.

One financing option involves a capital improvement bond, which the city may use to fund public facilities projects. A second option is a lease-purchase arrangement, which is a long-term, lease-to-own program, while a third choice is utilizing U.S. Department of Agriculture loan programs.


During meetings earlier this month, the city’s financial consultants presented those options to the council, but Nasby said a decision wasn’t made. He added that council members asked for a one-page recommendation so they can compare all of the financing mechanisms. The council is leaning toward a combined use of the USDA program and lease-purchase arrangement, Nasby said.

Council members Brian Cooley, Paul Johnson, Bryan Joyce and JoAnn Ray have said they favor the lease-to-own option, according to a Cottonwood County Citizen report.

Nasby said if the council chooses the capital improvement option, the planning process would be slowed and cause potentially higher bids when the city is ready to begin the project.

Public hearing set Because the city’s proposed site for a new emergency and fire facility is on city park property, state statute requires a public hearing be conducted before the park’s closure. That hearing is slated for Sept. 6, during which Windom residents can give input on the project.


Several Windom residents have already spoken out against plans to use property at Witt Park, located between Ninth and 10th streets off Fifth Avenue, for the new building.

Rural Windom resident Bob Lindaman said he has created a Witt Park committee comprised of residents who disagree with several points of the city’s proposed project. He said he has three main issues with the plan -- the location, the cost and the process of how the project has been communicated to the public.

The committee has gathered more than 600 signatures, said Lindaman, who added that he presented these concerns at a council meeting, but thinks his opinions haven't been considered.

“At least seven generations of citizens have used that park, including my children,” Lindaman said. “I have played tennis there for 40 years, and I think it is an asset to have a park in the middle of town.”


Craig Zimmerman, one of the members of the Witt Park group, said there are other ways to go about the project. He agrees with the construction of the new facility but opposes the location -- and the price.

“I honestly believe that the majority of the people aren't happy about how the council is representing the city of Windom,” Zimmerman said. “I have talked with very few people who don't want them (firefighters) to have something nice, because they do an excellent job. The problem is not with them at all. The problem is that we have to watch our budget, and we shouldn't be destroying parks.”

Windom Fire Chief Dan Ortman, meanwhile, said Witt Park is the best location for the emergency and fire services building. He said the primary reason for choosing that location is response time.

“You have your best response time and it is not just the emergency vehicles responding to the scene, but it is also our first responders responding to the building,” Ortman said. “Having it in the center of town gives us the fastest response.”

Windom Mayor Corey Maricle said the city’s building committee has studied other sites for years and concluded that Witt Park is the best location.

“I think that life-or-death situations should be ... remedied as quickly as possible, and I think that the response time is the most important issue as far as where the building goes,” Maricle said.  

Price tag at issue Zimmerman said he’s concerned with the possibility that he won’t be able to vote on the project if the council decides to finance it with a lease-to-own payment.

“The public should be able to vote on it. … It is the people who are going to be paying it,” he said.

The council is looking to spend $3.9 million, which includes the relocation of Witt Park tennis courts and playground equipment to Tegels Park and Dynamite Park, respectively.

Council member Dominic Jones asked the board if any part of the building can be removed from the plan, adding that he believed four bedrooms planned for the new facility are not necessary.  Kristen Porath, a firefighter and EMT, said the bedrooms are a necessity for people who do not live in town and have to stay overnight when called in.

“I am three miles out of town, so in the wintertime if I am on an ambulance call, I need to stay in town,” Porath said. “People said, ‘Why do we need those bedrooms?’ We need those bedrooms for people like me.”

In addition, Ortman said the need for more EMTs has become greater this year. Bedrooms in the new facility will help with recruitment, he said.

“We have people that are willing to be EMTs, but they don’t live within that response time that is needed.” Ortman said.

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