1875 jail “structurally sound”

By Craig Moorehead

For the Caledonia Argus


Even though an engineer’s report on the condition of the historic Houston County Jail is not complete, indications are that the building is still structurally sound, personnel/facilities director Tess Arrick-Kruger reported last week.

Speaking to county commissioners on May 13, Arrick-Kruger said that the recently flood-drenched structure is now “almost totally dry.” The vacant building suffered damages when a frozen sprinkler pipe burst last month, pouring approximately 300,000 gallons into the building before water was discovered running from doorways and mortar joints.

Houston County insured the structure through the Minnesota Counties Intergovernmental Trust, and an MCIT representative would like commissioners to decide whether they want to raze or repair the building as soon as possible, Arrick-Kruger added. “It impacts how MCIT responds,” she stated. “I told him it’s kind of a chicken and egg thing. The board can’t make a decision until we have an engineer’s report, and it would be nice for us to even have the contractor’s report on costs.

Built in 1875, the building once housed living quarters for the county sheriff’s family directly above the cell block. Flood clean-up has resulted in a sort of archeology mission.

“Most of the first floor walls had to come out, and partial walls on the second (floor),” Arrick-Kruger said. In addition, “fairly minimal” asbestos abatement has been done in conjunction with the work. Second-floor air handlers have also been removed, along with some five layers of flooring which could not be salvaged.

“As best we can, we have saved parts for later display.” she noted. Experts have said that the floor includes a “remarkable structural design.” That might have been done so that prisoners couldn’t find a way to escape through the ceilings, Arrick-Kruger added.


Bids awarded

Commissioners awarded two roadwork contracts. One was for a bridge replacement on Daley Creek Road, county engineer Brian Pogodzinski said. Low bidder Van Gundy Construction offered to do the work for $210,303, approximately $80,000 less than engineering estimates. That won approval from the board. The second contract went to lone bidder Mathy Construction, which offered to pave portions of county roads 4 and 9 for $4,282,167. That’s 4.08% less than estimates, Pogodzinski reported.

Work on County 5 within the City of Caledonia will begin the Tuesday following Memorial Day, he added. There will be a two to three week shutdown involving a pair of detours, some of which will take some residents approximately five miles out of their way.


Conditional Use Permits Approved

The board approved CUP renewals for a pair of existing mines in Mayville and Jefferson Townships. In addition, an exhibition permit in Yucatan Township was granted an extension.

Finally, a new CUP for AT&T to expand an existing Verizon Wireless communications tower in Houston Township won approval. The companies will co-locate at the facility, and a temporary antenna will be permitted while work proceeds. That will need to be removed by the end of 2014.


Tobacco free campus at

Public Health

Commissioners ratified a tobacco-free policy for the county’s Community Services Building campus. That location houses the Public Health/Nursing department, the Veteran Services Office, and the Extension Service. The document covers both conventional tobacco products and electronic cigarettes, and not only includes interior spaces, but all county property located at 611 Vista Drive in Caledonia, including parking lots.


Personnel items

At the start of the meeting commissioners asked for a moment of silence to mark the recent passing of long-time county employee Jeanette Twite, who served as a financial worker in human services. Later, they approved a hiring search to fill the full-time position which Twite held.

The board also accepted a letter of resignation from lead jailer Duane Beckman, who will retire on June 15. An internal search for a replacement lead jailer won approval as well. Another letter of resignation was also accepted for health administrator Jesica Melde, dated May 9.

Finally, human services case aide Kirby Fitzpatrick’s employment status was upgraded from probationary to regular.


Public Comment 

Six residents spoke at the beginning of the meeting, most of whom cited alleged misconduct by the county’s zoning department.

David Williams of Fillmore County said that the department had engaged in “harassing behavior” towards those who openly opposed a controversial conditional use permit renewal.

The Erickson mine CUP also drew complaints over how the department has dealt with the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board. Betts Reedy of Money Creek said that a county correspondence with the EQB read “more like an angry parent scolding a misbehaving child than a professional with a question he wanted answered.” Kelley Stanage of  Houston said, “The actions of the zoning administrator clearly demonstrate a lack of impartiality required by your own code of ethics.

Contacted after the meeting, zoning administrator Bob Scanlan told the Herald that investigations of mine neighbors Rosemary Iverson and Corey Baker (both of whom oppose the renewal), both originated from complaints filed with his office rather than a personal vendetta. Both are now charged with zoning violations. Scanlan also said that the EQB has not responded to the emailed correspondence which Reedy referenced.


Other News 

Commissioners approved holding the county auction this year on August 13. Items up for bid will include vehicle seizures from the sheriff’s department, and anything else that the county, local schools, cities, and townships would like to sell.

Finance director Carol Lapham presented a series of budget amendments to the board, all of which were approved. Those ranged from applying $11,443 in Wildcat Park revenues to the “project fund” set aside for that facility, to shifting funds from last year’s vehicle purchase account to 2014 for the sheriff’s department, to re-allocations in the human services department for health insurance premiums and newly awarded grants.