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Saturday, December 16, 2017

Buildings can be salvaged but officials question if that's best

By Jason Stuart

Ranger-Review Staff Writer

The Richey Public Library and Richey Senior Center buildings can be salvaged, according to an engineering report delivered to the Dawson County commissioners this week, but whether renovating the existing buildings or building a new facility would be the best option remains an open question the commissioners said on Thursday.

Reports delivered on both buildings by engineering firm KLJ conclude both could be salvaged if certain renovation steps were taken. The reports found both buildings to be overall structurally sound, though with serious defects which need addressing. The reports include a list of four recommended renovations/repairs for the senior center and five for the library.

However, while the commissioners said the engineering reports are “encouraging,” they cautioned that it is still unclear at this time what the best course of action may be.

“The question is, it is structurally sound, but does it still meet your needs?” said Commissioner Dennis Zander.

Zander added that making KLJ’s recommended fixes to both buildings would just be the tip of the iceberg, as the buildings are in need of multiple other renovations to bring them up to modern building codes, accommodate modern amenities and fulfill the purposes they are meant for. He said that raises the question of whether it would actually be worth it to put money into the existing buildings, even if they are salvageable.

“If you throw enough money at anything, anything can be salvaged,” Zander said. “But are you better off doing that or just starting over?”

Commissioner Doug Buxbaum echoed those sentiments, saying to truly bring the buildings up to modern standards in a manner where they can function for the intended purposes could prove to be more than it’s worth.

“It hasn’t fell over, put it that way, but it’s still old ... and pretty soon (if you begin trying to renovate it), you’re wondering why didn’t we just do this from scratch?” he said.

Before the county starts making any decisions about what to do next, the commissioners said they are waiting for the Environmental Protection Agency to complete its Brownfields review of the buildings. The EPA recently gave the county an $8,000 Brownfields grant to assess asbestos remediation in both buildings. The commissioners noted the EPA actually hires the contractor for that work themselves and the county will get a report once it’s done.

“Once that’s been completed and we know what kind of bogeyman lives in there we can decide where we want to go,” Zander said.

After they have the EPA report, the commissioners said they will then begin calling more town meetings with Richey townsfolk to decide how they want to proceed. At the first such meeting in January, the audience appeared to be fairly evenly split between those who wanted to renovate the existing buildings and those who preferred to build a new senior center/library facility.

Other than finding funding to implement either a renovation or a new build,  there is another wrinkle that still has to be worked out if the town and county decide to try and renovate the senior center — the fact that the county does not legally own the property or have a legal lease for it. 

That issue first arose at the January public meeting, where discussion indicated the Richey American Legion had intended to donate the building to the county decades ago, but it never officially happened, meaning the county has for decades been occupying and paying the bills on a building it doesn’t legally own or lease. Since then, the commissioners said they have been unable to find any evidence that the senior center property was ever legally transferred to the county.

“We’ve had talks with the American Legion on the senior center, and while the intention was to transfer that to the county, it never got done title-wise,” Zander said.

Reach Jason Stuart at rrreporter@rangerreview.com.

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