Building inspector asks council to consider Mary Mac issuesThe city-owned Mary MacDonald Center in Silver Bay was quite a topic of conversation during Monday night’s city council meeting.
By: Forrest Johnson, Lake County News Chronicle
The city-owned Mary MacDonald Center in Silver Bay was quite a topic of conversation during Monday night’s city council meeting.
City building inspector Jim Rich provided a frank assessment of the safety and maintenance needs at the former school building that now houses a host of retail and public service tenants.
Rich updated the council on the ongoing need to install a fire suppression sprinkler system throughout the 43,000 square foot building, at a likely cost of at least $150,000. Roof repairs could cost upwards of $700,000 if the city chooses to invest in the building and continue its use as a business and public center.
The city took ownership of the building for $1 from the Lake Superior School District back in 2004 after the district closed the Mary MacDonald Elementary School.
Rich said that non-compliance with some of the building code and safety issues, now that there are a number of tenants in the building, could put the city at risk in terms of insurance and liability. At this point, Rich said he couldn’t issue certificates of occupancy related to the tenants, which relates back to potential insurance issues.
He noted that the issues have been brought to the city’s attention before.
“When you change uses, the building has to be brought up to current standards, it needs to comply like any other building in the community,” said Rich.
Besides the sprinkler system, Rich urged the council to be aware of zoning needs if more development occurs at the site and issues like handicap accessibility, what upgrades to the parking lot are needed, utility needs and tenant or city remodeling issues.
He was aware of the plans to add a loading dock and he reminded the council that “It’s not just a matter of punching a hole in the building and building a loading dock,” he said.
He urged the council to think long term as the city looks at investing funds toward the building.
Mayor Scott Johnson said that Rich’s points were well taken and suggested the council meet in a special session to talk about the Mary Mac Center. The meeting is scheduled for 3 p.m., Monday, March 24.
In other council business:
• Silver Bay may have missed the deadline for a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) grant for this year but the city council gave its approval to a plan that may still lead to the construction of a new arrival and departure (AD) building at the city-owned Silver Bay/Wayne Johnson Airport located on Highway 3 west of town.
Last week, the council turned down the request by a 3-2 vote, leaving some airport commission and non-profit group members frustrated.
The issue didn’t die, however. On Monday, Tim Bjella, former airport manager and member of the non-profit Friends of North Shore Aviation, reiterated that the private funds were raised in an effort to help offset city costs for the proposed project and those funds would still be available as long as the city was willing to commit to the entire project.
After some discussion, council members asked Bjella if the group would donate $2,000 of the funds toward a design and engineering grant that could provide a basic footprint for the building project.
Bjella agreed as long as the council remained committed to the entire project. The council then approved an engineering and design grant request for the project.
The present AD building has had septic issues for quite some time and it was suggested that the FAA grant could be used to simply replace the old building. There is a $250,000 cap on building costs through the FAA grant.
Over the past several weeks the council had dealt with a recommendation from the airport commission asking that the city support a $250,000 grant request to the FAA for the new building. The available grant was a 95/5 federal/local match, meaning up to 95 percent of the costs of the project could be paid through the federal grant. In the effort to lower the local costs to the city, the non-profit group raised $6,000 in pledges and had another $4,000 in verbal commitments.
• After conducting a series of interviews, including narrowing the list from 22 candidates to a final three, the council voted at its March 3 meeting to offer the city administrator position to former Proctor city administrator John Foschi.
Last Wednesday, Foschi turned down the city’s offer, leaving two finalists in the mix, which sent the council back to the drawing board. The council agreed to Johnson’s request to interview a third candidate on April 2, but they also asked to add two more finalists to the list.
Johnson agreed and asked council members to go back over the candidate list and pick two more by Friday, bringing the final list to five.
• The council agreed to send $2,000 toward a Silver Bay-area and northern Lake County housing study that will allow the Lake County HRA to seek housing improvement grants in the years to come. The study will cost a total of $16,000 to complete.
Local residents Tom Lovdahl and Richard DeRosier of the HRA told the council that the city and Two Harbors have been included in a grant request to upgrade six homes in each of the two communities. They said the HRA hopes to increase that number in future years with future grant monies in cooperation with Cook County.