by CHRIS ROGERS
On Monday, the Winona City Council will hold a public hearing before voting on whether to make the former Winona Junior High School auditorium a local historic site.
The city’s Heritage Preservation Commission (HPC) voted unanimously late last month to nominate the building as a local historic landmark. Another city commission, the Port Authority Commission, has offered to forgive the $400,000 debt the owners owe the city if they tear down the auditorium and give the land to the city for use as a parking lot. The building is already on the National Park Services’ National Register of Historic Places. The proposed local historic designation would give the city the power to approve or deny requests to demolish the building.
In an interview earlier this summer, Mayor Mark Peterson — who is also the executive director of the Winona County Historical Society and a former HPC member — said he supports the Port Authority’s proposal to demolish the building, saying that, unfortunately, a feasible plan for rehabilitating the water-damaged building has not been found.
Current HPC member Peter Shortridge said that local historic designation would not preclude demolition, but would simply ensure that there is a local discussion and a local decision before any demolition occurs.
The council’s agenda includes a building condition report from city staff, which outlines the mold, mildew, and pigeon problems the building has suffered for some years. The report states that the city employee safety coordinator has recommended that firefighters and police officers not enter the building unless they wear protective equipment. Staff members’ report also includes a rough estimate for what it would cost to remediate the mold and water damage at the building: $578,000. This estimate is based on rough, per-square footage estimates from remediation companies, not detailed quotes. Winona Economic Development Specialist Nick Larson said that some remediation work would likely be needed even if the building is going to be torn down.
The public hearing will be held at 6:30 p.m. on Monday, August 6, in the council chambers, on the third floor of city hall, 207 Lafayette Street. Also on the agenda is a proposal to pave city alleys and charge most of the costs to property owners — an estimated $2,000 per property, spread out over 10 years — and a proposal to hire an engineer firm to design an estimated $3-million sewer and water utility extension to serve a few dozen houses in Gilmore Valley.