The city of Stanley started poking around its city hall building. What it found isn’t pretty, and it was downright dangerous besides.
Inspections conducted by the city building inspector and two engineering firms found the nearly 100-year old building sits on gasoline-contaminated soil and contains black mold, asbestos, lead paint, possible PCBs and a compromised ventilation system.
The city building inspector, Denis Kesterson, told the council at its last meeting that the building is dangerous and should be repaired, vacated or demolished.
The bad news comes while the city decides whether to build a new city hall under an innovative public-private partnership concept.
Under the concept, a private entity builds and finances a city hall, which the city leases in a lease-buy program. It's a relatively quick way to get into a building because it bypasses city-backed revenue bonds and public bid letting.
Such public-private partnerships are allowed under state law, but the only example in North Dakota is a toll bridge near Fargo.
Now with failing environmental grades, the city is under some pressure to either fix the building it's in, or move on.
The North Dakota Health Department and the Occupational Health and Safety Administration also are involved, Kesterson said. The health department was notified of the soil and groundwater contamination and wants a complete site assessment. The city hall had been a gas station and a car dealership.
Kesterson said city ordinance provides 30 days for “curable action” in light of his findings, but he thinks other agencies will be more likely to enforce action.
City coordinator Ward Heidbreder said the city council will have to decide whether to sink money into fixing the old building — he says it’s possible — or put that money toward something new.
“In my personal opinion, it can be repaired,” Heidbreder said. “There is some wasted space and the roof leaks. We knew the structure had issues.”
An architect for the public-private concept has submitted building plans ranging from $4 million to $8 million using the same main street corner the city hall is on now. The range reflects the size of the structure and whether it's one or two stories. The figure also includes a new city shop at a separate location.
City Auditor Bev Gleave said she worries about the environmental report. She said employees get headaches when machinery exhaust in the attached shop gets into the building ventilation system.
She said the city council is divided 3-3 on whether to approve a public-private partnership building as proposed.
“What scares them is the cost,” she said. The monthly lease would be $30,000, she said.
City councilman Dennis Lindahl said it won’t be an easy choice for the council.
“Nobody wants a division. We need to be unified,” he said. Oil impact funds to buy down the cost would help, he said.
Lindahl said the finance committee will make a recommendation, but the city is hamstrung because it has limited ability to bond, which is basically a pledge of repayment with city revenue. He said the city's bond capacity will be tapped out after investing nearly $1 million in expanded infrastructure to support a new retail development out on
U.S. Highway 2.