Cleanup efforts underway in old jail

Cleanup efforts at the recently-flooded Houston County Jail were brought up at the April 22 County Board meeting.
The historic building, which has been vacant since the fall of 2011, had water pouring from doors and mortar joints on April 11 after a burst sprinkler pipe thawed.
Tess Arrick-Kruger, personnel and facilities director, said that dehumidifiers have been at work since the remaining water from the 300,000 gallon spill was pumped out of the structure. In the basement level, relative humidity has been reduced from 89 percent to 44 percent, while the first floor has gone from 86 percent to 36 percent.
Work crews are removing items such as soaked drywall, but testing for asbestos will be required as the work progresses, she noted. Some soaked wood floors contain multiple layers of material.
Even as commissioners met, a structural engineer was en route to begin an evaluation of the building, Arrick-Kruger reported.
“You’ll be the first to know when we get the structural report,” she added.
“He (the engineer) has been hired by MCIT (Minnesota Counties Intergovernmental Trust) to come and take a look at the foundation as well as the structural supports and joists on the inside of the building,” Arrick-Kruger stated. “At some point the board is going to have to make a determination whether to keep the building or to raze the building. We will need to know that before we complete the mitigation process so we have the appropriate actions going forward.
“We wouldn’t want to be tearing things out that we don’t need to tear out, but we wouldn’t want to be saving something that doesn’t have to be saved.”
The county insured the building through MCIT. To date, all of the work to dry out and clean up the structure has been covered by the claim, rather than taxpayers, commissioners were told.
Arrick-Kruger also said that the state conservator from the Minnesota Historical Society has visited the building and talked to the insurance adjustor and the cleanup company.
“He reminded us that there’s hundreds of thousands of dollars that potentially we could tap into, and that it would be a good project for their grant,” she noted.

Crest Precast gets support
The board voted to allow the Houston County Economic Development Authority to submit an application to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development on behalf of Crest Precast of La Crescent Township.
Under the Minnesota Investment Fund program, the company would receive $192,000 for an expansion project, to be repaid over 10 years at 2 percent interest.
On a related note, commissioners voted to approve an additional $65,000 from the Houston County EDA’s revolving loan fund to go toward the same project at the same rate and 10-year payback.
“This project is going to go forward as soon as the paperwork is signed,” Houston County EDA coordinator Rick Howden said. “They’re seeing the need to grow and expand.”
Howden said that the company is committed to adding eight new jobs over the next two years.

Paid internships approved
Commissioners approved up to two paid summer internships for the Houston County Public Health Department. Funding to pay salaries would come entirely from grant monies already received through the State Health Improvement Project (SHIP), Public Health Director Mary Marcel reported.
“It’s a win-win for everybody,” she said.
As 67-day employees, the interns will work for the county while furthering their educational goals, Marcel noted, working in “health promotion.”

New keys for old courthouse
Finally, the board approved a total makeover of locks at the historic Houston County Courthouse, which now houses county offices but no court services. Arrick-Kruger said that the project will enhance security in the building and provide some much-needed fire safety dividends by making “master” keys available to firefighters.
The low bid for the job came from Bob’s Lock & Safe of La Crosse, at $7,339 plus keys.
Arrick-Kruger said that an additional $4,632 would be required to install new push handles for “hands-free” exit from some suites, but did not recommend updates for those at this time. Funding for the locks will come from the “building improvement” line item in the 2014 budget.