County to take possession of Cronin Building

The Anoka County Board has approved a purchase agreement with the state of Minnesota to take possession of a state-owned building on the former Anoka State Hospital campus.

The county plans to remodel the Cronin Building and rent a portion of it to Stepping Stone Emergency Housing, the only homeless shelter in Anoka County that accepts homeless adults.

The cost to the county to acquire the building is $1 with closing expected to take place in early July, according to County Administrator Jerry Soma.

The county will undertake some renovation work on the building, including replacing the old, outdated heating and air conditioning system, Soma said.

But the HVAC system remains functional and Stepping Stone is expected to move into the building at the end of July, he said.

Stepping Stone will be occupying the first floor and the county the remainder of the building, although a county use for that portion of the building has not yet been identified, Soma said.

“This is very good news,” said Heather Ries, Stepping Stone executive director.

“We are very excited. This has been a long process for us.”

The move will enable Stepping Stone to expand its capacity from the current 20 beds to 60 beds, according to Ries.

But that won’t happen immediately because of staffing issues, Ries said.

The goal is to increase capacity incrementally each quarter so the 60-bed maximum is reached by the end of the year, she said.

During the winter months, Stepping Stone’s current facility in Anoka has been full every night with a waiting list, Ries said.

“There is a lull right now with the warmer weather,” she said.

The increased number of beds will enable Stepping Stone to serve more homeless vets even though they are now given preference, according to Ries.

Negotiations have not yet been completed with the county on the rent and the utility costs that Stepping Stone will pay to occupy the first floor of the Cronin Building, Ries said.

But she said the rent will be affordable.

Nor has Stepping Stone decided on what will happen to its existing Anoka facility when the move takes place, she said.

One possibility under consideration is to turn the property into low-income rental housing, which would be run by a property management company, in partnership with Family Promise of Anoka County, a non-profit interfaith hospitality network that provides temporary shelter, hospitality and case management for families with dependent children experiencing homelessness.

State legislation passed in 1998 allowed the Commissioner of Human Services through the Commissioner of Administration to transfer surplus buildings of the old Anoka State Hospital to Anoka County once the state had opened a new Anoka Metro Regional Treatment Center campus.

Over the years, the county has acquired several other buildings from the state on the former state hospital campus and created the Rum River Human Service Center.

Until recently, the state has continued to operate a chemical dependency treatment program in the Cronin Building.

“The Minnesota Commissioner of Human Services has now determined that the Cronin Building is no longer needed for its operations at the Anoka Regional Treatment Center and has declared such property surplus,” said Assistant County Attorney Dan Klint in a memo to the county board’s Management Committee, which recommended the approval of the purchase agreement.

Under the purchase agreement, the use of the building is restricted to “governmental, including recreational, purposes.”

If the Cronin Building is not used for those purposes, then it would revert back to the state, Klint wrote in his memo.

The renovation work planned by the county at the Cronin Building includes a new chiller, rebalancing the air handling system, elevator upgrade and direct digital controls at an estimated cost of $570,000.

The county is planning to fund the work through $220,000 in available county dollars plus an allocation of $350,000 in federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) money approved earlier this year by the Anoka County Housing and Redevelopment Authority (HRA).

The Cronin Building totals 27,819 square feet and was constructed in 1979.

It includes residence rooms, group lounge areas, a large meeting room, a recreation/cafeteria room, conference/interview rooms and administrative offices.

Peter Bodley is at [email protected]