Stanley’s new city hall

STANLEY – The need for a new city hall in Stanley just got more urgent.

Recent inspection reports showing structural problems, black mold, asbestos, lead-based paint and underground petroleum contamination have added to concerns that city officials already had related to lack of space and a leaky roof.

About a dozen employees in the police department, public works and administration work out of City Hall. Those who spend much time there complain of watering eyes, cough and allergy symptoms.

The Stanley City Council began talking about replacing its overcrowded city hall after learning the bill to replace the roof would be about $65,000. Council members agree something needs to be done, but what to do and how to finance it has members split.

“We need to weigh a lot of different options,” council president Lyne Enget said. “The building we have is inadequate. It’s got major problems. We have to, in the near future, deal with those issues.”

The council has architectural plans for a new building. However, the council would lack the ability to finance construction if it proceeds with bonding for infrastructure improvements for a retail development along U.S. Highway 2. That $800,000 investment will push the city to its bonding limit.

“We have to find a different solution with the city hall,” said Dennis Lindahl, who is among council members supporting a financing concept used only once before to build a toll bridge in Fargo.

The concept would involve a private entity constructing the building and renting it to the city. The city could convert the deal to a purchase at a future date. Private investors and a couple of investment firms have shown interest in financing a project, Lindahl said.

Rent is estimated at $30,000 a month for 10,500 square feet on two floors with a basement parking garage. The city would occupy the first floor and rent out the second floor. For about $4 million, the city could have a building with furnishings and equipment, Lindahl said.

A 30,000-square-foot shop for public works would be built at a separate location for about $900,000.

The city would like to apply for oil impact money to bring down the construction cost and rental fees. It has asked the North Dakota Attorney General for an opinion about the legality of using impact money in a public-private partnership.

The impact of oil activity has helped drive the need for more staff and a new city hall, Lindahl said.

Police Chief Kris Halvorson said his department’s lone office with a single computer has to serve him and a staff that has grown from two to four officers. He would like to add an office secretary. He also would like an interview room and a larger evidence storage room. The plans for a new building devote about half the space on the first floor to a law enforcement center.

Denis Kesterson, Stanley’s building inspector who documented city hall’s shortcomings, said that based on his analysis, it would not be cost effective to try to repair the existing building.

The building has structural issues, including floor beams that weren’t designed to support the weight when the council room has a full crowd, he said. The ventilation system must be fixed so that machinery exhaust in the attached shop can no longer get into the offices. His inspection uncovered asbestos with potential to become airborne and a significant amount of mold, indicating serious water leakage issues.

“It doesn’t bother me as much what I can see as what I can’t see,” Kesterson said, explaining that mold behind ceilings and walls would be much greater than the visible mold.

“It’s nasty. It’s a petri dish,” he said.

In addition to Kesterson’s inspection, environmental engineers have conducted a review documenting the petroleum contamination. The building formerly was a gas station.

The State Health Department and federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration and Environmental Protection Agency have become involved. The city is waiting for orders on what would need to be fixed and when.

Lindahl said the city has at least one prospective location where it could relocate temporarily. A temporary location will be needed if the city follows through with plans to tear down the existing city hall and rebuild in that same location.

Rebuilding on the existing site will require remediation of the petroleum spill. The cost will depend on how extensive the cleanup job must be, Lindahl said. The city hopes to pursue grants to assist with that cost.

Of concern to the city is the number of gas stations that once existed downtown, both around City Hall and down the street. Kesterson said the extent of any additional soil contamination has yet to be investigated, but the findings will be important to Stanley’s entire downtown business district.

At one time, the city had looked at moving out of downtown to a new building constructed just off U.S. Highway 2. The council decided against that move.

“I am very much a proponent of keeping City Hall on Main Street,” Enget said. “Personally, I think it belongs downtown.”

Lindahl said the city is looking at building options that won’t mean higher taxes for residents.

The council’s finance committee will review the options and make a recommendation. If the council leans toward the public-private partnership, a public hearing would be required.

“That input is very important to us,” Enget said. “If the city doesn’t want to build a new building, we will have to find other options.”

Lindahl agreed that public feedback will be a deciding factor.

“Really, it comes down to the constituents,” he said.