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Kirkbride's historic status not impacted by demolition

File photo from May 23, 2018 when demolition crews worked to take down the new administration building, which was added to the campus in the 1950's. (Special to Forum News Service)

Phase 2 of the city's multi-phased deconstruction of the Fergus Falls Regional Treatment Center appears to be moving forward, as city leaders revealed Wednesday morning that Minnesota's State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) and the National Parks Service have determined the work will not interfere with the building's historic status.

"As you all know, in light of the development interest on East and West Detached, we had to determine if our Phase 2 demolition or deconstruction actions would impact the overall campus designation, thus eliminating the ability to utilize historic tax credits," City Administrator Andrew Bremseth began the presentation.

The inquiry by the city pertains to an active development proposal from Georgia-based American Covenant Senior Housing Foundation, Inc. (ACSHFI), who hope to repurpose two of the buildings located on the outer ends of the Kirkbride "horseshoe." In formal documents, the structures are known as buildings 23 and 27, but publicly the pair are more commonly referred to as East Detached and West Detached.

"I'm happy this morning to report to the council and to the public that we were able to get the determination that we could proceed with Phase 2 activities and not impact the campus registry status," Bremseth announced. "We'll still be able to have the development group access those historic tax credits that are associated with the site."

The city administrator told council members that the oversight agencies involved in the determination had proven easy to work with and produced a result sooner than anticipated. He saw the decision as a positive turn for the community.

"It's really good news for us," Bremseth said. "Our plan continues to come together."

Meanwhile, council members requested city staff draft a formal update on the work which has been done so far to review the qualifications of ACSHFI to handle a project of the Kirkbride's scale. That action came in response to a citizen request heard at last week's meeting of the city council.

'The Almanac'

Part of an upcoming documentary, St. Paul-based media group Twin Cities Public Television and their show "The Almanac" are hoping to gain access to the Fergus Falls Region Treatment Center. City Administrator Andrew Bremseth said the long-running program had reached out to the city recently, looking to feature the building and discuss ongoing demolition work at the campus and the decade-long challenge to the community.

Earlier this same year, council members entertained a similar request from a local media entity and responded with concerns about allowing anyone access to the century-old facility. At the time, they cited liability and safety risks in addition to complicated negotiations which were then still underway in St. Paul as the impetus behind their hesitation. To the latest request, Bremseth explained that he had told journalists for "The Almanac" not to be overly optimistic.

Quite to the contrary, however, council members suggested the public exposure may provide a chance to clear up misconceptions which have continued to circulate.

"I see both danger and opportunity, as most of us probably do," Councilman Rod Spidahl said. "One thing I see is the opportunity to correct what I saw in the Alexandria station and from a Fargo report that we are demolishing the building. If they get the facts, it could set the record straight — which is what I would hope. If we just turn them down, there's a sense of, 'OK, what are you hiding?'"

With no votes heard in opposition, the project is expected to move forward.