Commissioners seek demolition quotes for Money Creek school

Craig Moorhead

The Caledonia Argus

On August 22, Houston County commissioners voted unanimously to seek quotes for the demolition of what remains of the Money Creek school building. Now privately owned, the structure will be removed as “a hazard to public safety and health,” the RFQ (request for quotes) states.

A court order filed in May warned property owner Thomas Rohn that unless “corrections” were made to the condition of the building on or before August 1, the county would be allowed to raze the structure. The former school, its water well, and associated septic system occupies a pair of lots, both owned by Rohn.

On June 6, 2017, environmental services director Rick Frank asked commissioners if they wanted to prepare to demolish the building, assessing the costs against the property. They made no vote then, but did reach a consensus to move forward on correcting the situation.

“We tried working with the current landowner.” Frank said last week. “(But) as far as making that thing safe for that area, nothing has been done to remedy (what’s wrong with) the building.”

In June, Frank said that razing the school would cost “close to what the estimates on those lots are worth. I went to the assessor’s office and the lots are worth about $30,000 each. It’s going to take close to that for that building to be torn down.”

According to the RFQ, contractors will be asked to perform an asbestos inspection at the site, purge and grout seal the well, and properly eliminate/abandon an old septic system in compliance with State of Minnesota rules. Workers are also expected to set aside “for Money Creek Township’s historical preservation purposes” the school sign above the front door, the bell tower, the cornerstone, and approximately 250 bricks.

Frank also discussed bringing back the part-time position of Houston County agricultural inspector with the board, citing the need to battle invasive species, noxious weeds, and more. Commissioners asked him to broach the subject with their Personnel Committee, and see if any funding is available (such as state grants) to help pay for a possible hire.

In other environmental news, the board approved a grant agreement with the Southeast Minnesota Water Resources Board. The grant program is officially labeled “reducing runoff from southeast Minnesota feedlots.” It could provide up to $8,500 for projects in Houston County.

New website for EDA

Houston County Economic Development Authority coordinator Courtney Bergey reported that she had received 15 proposals from developers to create a new “outward-facing website” for the EDA. Bergey recommended hiring the only Houston County-based bidder, Hazel Street Creative (Caledonia), since that business submitted not only the second-lowest offer, but a bid that provides the best fit for what the EDA needs.

Hazel Street Creative’s $2,850 proposal included “much-needed re-branding and graphic logo design for the EDA, as well as content creation and photography,” Bergey stated in a written memo. Contrasted to that, the high bid came in at a whopping $55,680. The EDA has a 2017 marketing budget of $5,500. The board agreed with Bergey, hiring the Caledonia company.

License Center fully staffed

Commissioners hired Jennifer Egge as a deputy auditor/license center clerk, effective Sept 5. The addition brings the License Center up to full staffing levels.

In other personnel news, the board reached a consensus as they continue to feel their way towards a new arrangement for Geographic Information Systems staffing. Since Houston County’s full-time GIS coordinator retired nearly three months ago, several options have been discussed, including contracting for the work with an outside firm, training existing staff to share those duties, and various combinations of both.

By consensus, commissioners asked personnel/facilities director Tess Arrick-Kruger to move forward with a review of the contract offer from the Schneider Corporation (Indianapolis, Ind.) which they heard in July. Schneider offered to provide 12 days of GIS on-site staffing per year, plus 144 remote project hours for $33,600, company spokesman Ryan Smith reported at that time. The company also offered to train county employees in GIS usage.

Other news:

The board approved a new two-year airport maintenance agreement with the Minnesota Department of Transportation. Essentially identical to the current pact which (along with FAA monies) helps to fund the upkeep of the Houston County Airport, the grant has a not-to-exceed figure of $47,820 ($23,910 each year) for fiscal 2018-19.

Reaching another consensus, commissioners asked member Scott Connor to investigate whether additional land is now for sale adjoining the county’s Highway Department headquarters. The board has considered options to replace a run-down set of structures at that facility in Caledonia for a number of years. The last time the subject came up for a vote, the board went on record as being in favor of utilizing the existing site rather than relocating, but the size of the footprint needed to do that has been a bone of contention among not only this set of commissioners, but past members as well.