Proposal made to keep ’54 building

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 22, 2003

Auctioneer Howard Jensen spoke at the county board meeting Tuesday, to present his proposal to keep the ’54 building.

He alleges that he has already has a bid from his son Greg Jensen for purchasing the building at $150,000, which would save the county nearly $500,000 combined with the cost for the demolition.

“When you are tearing this building down, you are wasting the taxpayers’ money,” Jensen said. “The $150,000 is the first offer only. I have other people entering, I tell you that….You gentlemen, just use your common sense.”

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Jensen also suggested the county keep the building for future expansion of county offices or a public library. “There is no real good reason to tear it down,” he said.

One of the obstacles that makes the county reluctant to buy into Jensen’s idea is a question about the legality of changing the land use.

County Attorney Craig Nelson’s research indicates that the county cannot sell the ’54 building portion of land since it was dedicated for a public use. Past State Supreme Court rulings show that the designation can be changed only when the court recognizes that particular site is no longer serving for the public purpose. He said if the county decided to relocate the courthouse somewhere else, it could sell the land, and this is not the case.

Jensen challenged Nelson, submitting a letter from Austin attorney Paul Sween that contends there has been no dedication for any particular purposes.

Sween provided a quitclaim deed recorded May 1887 that shows the transfer of the property to the county and does not include any language about the designation.

But, Nelson rebuffed that the original plat in 1859 when George Ruble handed the land to the Village of Albert Lea designates the block as “Court Square.”

He also found an 1883 County District Court Decision that dismissed a claim by Ruble to regain the possession of the land. Judge Thos Buckham ruled that there is common law dedication to use the land for public buildings, while denying the presence of statutory dedication.

A common law dedication requires evidence that shows intent to donate the property for the public use, and acceptance by the public.

Generally, a survey and plat alone are sufficient to establish a dedication if it is evident from the face of the plat it was the intention of the proprietor to set apart certain grounds for public use. But, what constitutes the intent may vary. In some cases the court did not accept mere completion of a plat containing a layout as an offer of dedication.

The definition of public acceptance also tends to be case by case depending on the duration of occupancy by a public entity and importance of property to public benefits. Nelson asserts since the erection of the first courthouse in 1866, the site has been used for the sole purpose as the public facility, and the public perception of it is evident.

Other concerns about the sale, or retention, of the 54 building County Administrator Ron Gabrielsen raised include the security and maintenance. Both judges of the District Court said the building adjacent to the courthouse should be under the control of county. And, retaining the ’54 building as Jensen proposed as an alternative would result in higher costs to upkeep.

Commissioner Chair Mark Behrends confirmed that the board has already made a decision to tear down the building, and unless any of the members who voted for the resolution would enter a motion to rescind, nothing will be changed in the new courthouse plan.

The board approved a motion to continue to gather expert opinion on the issue before making a final decision.