by Joni Astrup
The city of Elk River continues to move forward with plans to demolish two downtown buildings.
The two buildings at 716 and 720 Main St. are owned by the Elk River Housing and Redevelopment Authority (HRA). The HRA had purchased the buildings in 2006, intending to eventually demolish them for parking. The issue of demolition came to the forefront recently after an inspection found a failed roof truss in 720 Main and an engineer expressed concern about a potential roof collapse due to snow.
The Elk River Area Arts Alliance had been located at 716 Main for several years. The Arts Alliance has now moved out (click here to read related story).
Here is a timeline of how the decision to move toward demolition proceeded, according to Elk River Director of Economic Development Annie Deckert and other city officials.
•In July 2011, the Arts Alliance building experienced significant leaks. The city inspected both 716 and 720 Main to determine any maintenance that would need to be done. Building Official Bob Ruprecht saw the fractured truss then and recommended contacting a structural engineer for an inspection.
•Louks Associates and Building Consulting Group inspected the buildings on Aug. 19 and determined that the 720 Main building “has failed roof trusses. Because of this condition, we recommend that no one enter this building until further detailed investigation is complete and either the building is demolished or repaired. Snow and/or roof loads have the potential to collapse the roof of this building,” according to the report.
•On Sept. 23, the city “red tagged” 720 Main, prohibiting anyone from entering it.
•On Oct. 3, the HRA authorized the city staff to proceed with obtaining proposals for costs to demolish 716 and 720 Main, (but did not give the Arts Alliance a deadline to vacate).
Following that meeting and after conferring with City Attorney Peter Beck, the city staff gave the Arts Alliance 30 days to vacate 716 Main — or by Nov. 6.
“This was made pursuant to the city’s police power to abate the threat to the public’s health, safety and welfare posed by these buildings,” according to a memo from Deckert to the HRA. “Allowing occupancy within the buildings puts the city at risk and liable for any damage which may occur to the public and/or 716 Main Street (the Arts Alliance) and 724 Main Street (Elk River Meats).”
The city’s insurance representative also advised extreme caution in allowing any occupancy of the buildings, since any damage which may occur could result in a claim against the city.
At the Monday, Nov. 7, meeting of the HRA, Commissioner Larry Toth indicated he wasn’t happy with the way it was handled, saying: “To a point, the HRA was circumvented in the process.” He believes the Arts Alliance could have been given more time to find another location.
HRA Chair Stewart Wilson said in any case where a governmental agency owns a building where there was an immediate safety hazard, the city would exercise its power to have the tenants leave the building to protect their safety.
The Arts Alliance, meanwhile, had its own engineer — Greg Duerr from Structural Design Associates — inspect the building on Oct. 27. Ruprecht said that inspection and the one by Louks Associates both confirmed “that the 720 roof truss is nearing complete failure.”
Toth, meanwhile, had questioned why the city has referred to failed roof trusses when only one truss is broken. He said the HRA presumed when it discussed the buildings last month that more than one truss had failed. While knowing it was only one probably wouldn’t have changed the outcome, “I think that somewhere along the way the information was not accurate for me, but again I may have not asked the right questions,” Toth said.
Deckert apologized if she indicated it was more than one truss, but said the complete report was provided to the HRA last month.
Ruprecht said later in the meeting that “trusses” may have been referred to because the other trusses in the building were also a concern since they are old and brittle. “The one structural engineer was leery of all of the trusses,” Ruprecht said.
Meanwhile, the city will obtain demolition quotes for the buildings. The HRA is expected to consider a bid contract on Dec. 5.
In the meantime, Ruprecht said they are looking at a couple of options to reduce the risk of the roof collapsing once the snow flies. They include heating the attic area to keep snow from accumulating or shoveling the snow off the roof.