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'Historic' bus garage needs to be repaired

An unexpected discovery last May that the warehouse serving as a garage for the Friendly Rider Transit System is listed on the National Register of Historic Places is putting a crimp in the county's plan to renovate the deteriorating building.

Wadena County Social Services purchased the warehouse in 2003 and began their plans to renovate the building a year and half ago, according to Pam Jenson, administrative services supervisor. Jenson said social services did not realize the 1930s-era building was on the National Register of Historic Places when the county purchased the building.

"That ... was a big shock," she said about the discovery of the building's historical value. "Because, you know, it's a warehouse."

She said the warehouse is a Peterson-Biddick property and many of its Wadena buildings are listed on the register. Jenson said social services would like to renovate the building so it has heat in the winter and can house all three buses as well as a possible fourth bus for Todd County the transit system may acquire. She said the warehouse roof leaks and the county had to install 2x4s along the roof beams to adequately support the weight of the roof.

"As a transit facility we have to have a roof that's not going to cave in with snow," Jenson said.

She said the county hopes to redo the roof so it no longer has the flat roof design that is notorious for leaking.

Transit Coordinator Bob Roggenkamp said storing all of the buses in one building in Wadena will save the county money. One of the Friendly Rider buses is stored at Green Pine Acres Nursing Home in Menagha at a cost of $900 a year to the county.

County Commissioner Mary Harrison said the renovated building will also serve as storage for the county assessor's office and to store new voting equipment required through the Help America Vote act.

Harrison said MnDOT encouraged Wadena County to apply for grants to construct a new bus facility, but the county decided to work with the property it already had.

Jenson said the county is considering several options in deciding what to do with the Friendly Rider garage.

Social services has access to state and federal grants to renovate the building, but Harrison said if the county accepts government funds they will have to restore the outside of the building to its original appearance.

The federal grant totals $200,000, but is set up as an 80/20 match so the county would have to contribute $40,000 to the project, according to Jenson. The state grant is from a bonding bill from this legislative season and also totals $200,000 with an 80/20 match requiring Wadena county to contribute $40,000. Jenson said she believed fewer regulations may be imposed if the county accepts the state grant as opposed to the federal grant. Jenson said another option is for the county to consider buying a new building for the buses that is not on the National Register of Historic Places.

Harrison offered a suggestion at a recent Wadena County Social Services Board meeting that the county consider ignoring the grants and use the $40,000 the county would have to spend to receive the grants towards repairing the roof. She said the county does not need a "Taj Mahal for buses" and the roof is the most important part of the building that requires fixing.

"According to the law as long as we own it we can do whatever we want to with the property so long as we don't accept any state money," Harrison said. "The general feeling at the moment is that it would be advisable to not take any grants because the renovations to restore the outside to its original appearance would be impractical, ... expensive and not serve the purpose we need the building for."

Harrison said the county board is taking the options under advisement. The board approved a motion Tuesday to advertise for quotes for the cost of tearing down the building on the west side of the garage. She said the building needs to be removed before the county can proceed with any repairs to the roof.