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Last push to save the Kirkbride

The Fergus Falls Regional Treatment Center is also known as the Kirkbride building. Forum file photo

FERGUS FALLS, Minn. - City staff were directed Monday night to begin planning demolition of the historic Regional Treatment Center in Fergus Falls, but it will not happen before there is one more push to find a developer who could save the building.

More than 100 supporters of the RTC, the former state hospital, attended Monday night's meeting, pleading with the council to save the more than 800,000-square-foot building.

"Is this proof enough the citizens of Fergus Falls want to save this place? It isn't just me. Please, listen to them. This is your chance," said Friends of Kirkbride member Gene Schmidt.

Designed by Minneapolis architect Warren Dunnell, the building, built in the early 1900s, was modeled after the recommendations of Thomas Kirkbride - a founder of the American Psychiatric Association.

The state of Minnesota imposed an April 13 deadline on the city to either demolish the building or repurpose it. The state gave the city the property in 2007 along with a $7.1 million grant to use for demolition if no uses could be found for campus structures.

If the city fails to meet its deadlines, the state could revoke funding, and the city would then be faced with using local taxpayer money to demolish or keep up the building.

However, RTC adviser to the city Kent Mattson said the state has agreed to extend its deadline one more year, to December 2014.

After more than an hour of pleas from residents - many of which were met with applause or cheers - the council unanimously moved to direct staff to begin drafting plans for demolition of the building, with the exception of the main tower.

After voting to approve planning for demolition, Councilwoman JoEllen Thacker made a motion to pursue a vigorous marketing plan to interest other possible developers. Included in the funding package the city received from the state remains more than $800,000 that Mattson said could be used to hire a marketing consultant.

The council unanimously approved creating a task force that will seek a marketing expert for the Kirkbride building.

A call for developers attracted six initial proposals last November. By February, only one remained. At the council's last meeting, it was forced to deny Geitso Export Management of Minneapolis approval to move forward after President and CEO Atul Wahai failed to provide requested financial information.

Mayor Hal Leland said he was willing to spend the money on one last effort to save the building.

The crowd was made up of Fergus Falls residents as others from around the state, such as Maianne Preble, who drove from her home in Excelsior. Preble is a graduate student who has studied similar buildings. Preble said the Fergus Falls Kirkbride building remains the most well- preserved Kirkbride- influenced building in the United States.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Wendy Reuer at (701) 241-5530

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