Bank committed to be a partner ‘for the long run’

Published 2:00 pm Wednesday, March 1, 2023

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By Kelly Wassenberg, for the Tribune

HARTLAND — The wind blew with an increasingly high intensity, tree branches broke, glass shattered, shingles lifted and bricks fell.

Although the day the tornado devastated Hartland was the first time tornadoes had hit the state in December, the results were all too familiar. Tears were shed, lives were changed and the landscape would never be the same.

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Depicted in many of the photographs from the day were pictures of Arcadian Bank’s Hartland branch.

Originally built in 1912 as Farmers State Bank of Hartland, the location had been a mainstay on the downtown streets since the days when it was traveled by horse and buggy. And the building had suffered significant damage.

“The southwest corner of the building was the hardest hit,” Arcadian Bank President Mark Heinemann said.

With the corner of the building reduced to rubble, the bank’s interior was exposed, he said, adding that all of the south windows were blown in, debris had made its way inside from adjacent buildings, and the establishment’s newly installed roof was perforated.

Recalling the 2010 tornado that had affected a number of the bank’s customers, Heinemann knew there was more damage than what was readily visible. The twisting and turning motions related to the tornado may have compromised the building to the point that it was beyond repair.

Together with a convergence team from the bank, which included the Hartland location’s two employees, Heinemann entered the bank after it was deemed safe to enter by the fire department.

“We were able to kind of survey the damage, tried to button things down as much as we could, and then we did take some things from the bank that night that we knew we would need to continue operating going forward,” Heinemann said.

The bank’s leadership team had proactively considered what should happen in such a circumstance.

“We have disaster recovery roundtable exercises,” Heinemann said. “And that’s prudent disaster recovery, management and business continuity planning for any business — banking or otherwise.”

During these exercises, Heinemann said they discussed what the bank would do in the event one of their branches was crippled — they lose network connectivity for an extended period of time, the power goes out or they have an IT failure.

With a plan already in place, the employees of the Hartland branch were divided between the Freeborn and Albert Lea locations so customers coming in from Hartland could still be served by a familiar face.

In the weeks that followed, some in the community pondered if the bank would reopen or permanently shutter its doors. Heinemann understood why.

“People listen to what you say — they really believe what you do,” he said.

Addressing the issue head-on, Heinemann noted, “You have to pose the question in order to dismiss it, but nobody was ever seriously considering doing that. It was my plan from the start to rebuild.”

Of course, even a bank president has to answer to the board; however, the decision to remain in Hartland was unanimous.

Delays were caused by red tape often associated with such events, yet it was determined within weeks that the only salvageable part of the building was the fieldstone basement.

Heinemann noted they could have salvaged part of the old building, but the most unique and interesting aspect of the location’s architecture — the brick and limestone exterior — would have had to be removed. This revelation, along with the desire to update the building’s facilities from today’s banking standards led to the decision to demolish the old structure and begin again.

The new building, which should start going up in the spring, will feature a drive through as well as a 24-hour access ATM in a secure vestibule.

Heinemann said he hopes the gesture will demonstrate the bank’s commitment to these small communities that still need a bank and still find value in having those services locally.

“In every challenge, there’s an opportunity, and we’re looking at it that way, and I think the town of Hartland is looking at it that way,” Heinemann said. “We’re looking forward to being a partner in that success for the long run.”