Group wants board to reconsider ’54 building

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 14, 2002

A public protest, something you hardly see in Albert Lea these days, took place in the heart of town Tuesday.

Around 15 citizens, most of them seniors, gathered in front of the 1954 courthouse annex with a big signboard saying, &uot;Commissioners. Please don’t tear me down! Give the people the right to vote on funding.&uot;

They represent the Save the ’54 Building Committee that has been opposing the county’s attempt to demolish the building. They have a petition with more than 1,100 signatures to keep the building before the board made a final decision to vacate it July 23.

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&uot;In my opinion, it is a crime to tear this building down,&uot; spokesman Warren Stowell said. &uot;The building is sound and efficient. I don’t think we have to spend much on remodeling.&uot;

Architects hired by the county calculated the cost to tear down the building and add 14,500 square-foot structure to the new judicial center to replace the ’54 building, and concluded that it would end up a cheaper option than extensive remodeling. The board decided, by a 3-2 vote, to remove it after tabling the subject over a month.

Citizens advocating downtown redevelopment welcomed the decision, expecting the removal of the ’54 building would incorporate the historic old courthouse into the downtown scenery and increase the community’s attractiveness.

But Stowell disagrees.

He thinks the ’54 building can be inviting enough only by a minor color coordination with the old courthouse.

As the signboard says, the group’s next move will focus on demanding a public referendum on the new judicial center.

Though the group’s calling is the preservation of the ’54 building, Stowell said, &uot;The demolition is part of the plan. I understand if there is no judicial center, the building will be saved.&uot;

The total cost for the project is estimated to exceed $20 million. The county plans to issue bonds through the Housing Redevelopment Authority and lease the money to the county. That way, the debt from the bonding will not reflect on the county’s balance sheet, and thus would not degrade the county’s credit rating, officials say. This type of bonding does not require a referendum.

&uot;The majority of the people should rule. That’s our democracy,&uot; Stowell insisted. &uot;Decisions should be in the people’s hands.&uot;