When the city of Ham Lake purchased a parcel for a service road project, it inherited two buildings in very poor condition.
One building is being used by an antique store and the Soderville Athletic Association (SAA) has leased the other building from the previous property owner over the past eight years for baseball and softball clinics, batting practice and various meetings.
The city may ultimately demolish both buildings, so SAA has contemplated its next move.
SAA President Greg Zimmer said the association board would like to lease space at a city public works building at Ham Lake Park, which is conveniently located next to the ball fields. SAA would pay $15,000 per year for rent and utilities and is also willing to contribute $5,000 toward initial building improvements and $3,000 annually “for ongoing improvements as needed,” according to a letter from SAA Operations Manager Nancy Nelson.
Councilmember Jim Doyle is a strong supporter and emphasized during the Ham Lake City Council’s Monday night (July 16) meeting that this partnership between the city and SAA would benefit approximately 2,500 kids.
His conversation with Public Works Superintendent Tom Reiner also indicated to him that the public works department would not need this space in the immediate future.
“You know I’m pro kids athletics,” Doyle said. “It keeps them out of trouble, keeps them healthy. The city has somewhat an obligation to help.”
On the other hand, Doyle told the Anoka County Union after the council meeting that he would likely abstain from voting on this proposal when it comes up at a future council meeting in the next two to four weeks because he is a traveling fast pitch commissioner for SAA.
Mayor Mike Van Kirk and Councilmember Gary Kirkeide are hesitant to support SAA on this matter because they do not want the city to become a long-term landlord.
Van Kirk brought up a worse case scenario. If a future council wants SAA to leave the building because it needs the space, Van Kirk said he could envision hundreds of kids in their uniforms filling up the council chambers to make it look like the council does not support kids.
In addition, Van Kirk wondered what would happen if SAA has financial trouble and can no longer afford the rent.
According to City Administrator Doris Nivala, this public works building at Ham Lake Park was designed for SAA to occupy the north section of the building for batting cages and two offices. A draft agreement between the city and SAA called for SAA to pay for half the building construction costs in the form of an annual $15,000 rent payment until SAA’s $200,000 obligation was fulfilled. For whatever reason, the agreement was never implemented, but the building was still constructed in 2005.
“It’s a municipal building,” Van Kirk said. “I don’t like the relationship when the government becomes a landlord.”
Zimmer said he was not involved with SAA in 2005, so he does not know why the agreement fell through. SAA has invested a lot of money in the community to improve athletic facilities and he said SAA is basically running youth athletic programming for the city of Ham Lake.
Why SAA needs
The city will be constructing a new service road on the east side of Highway 65 between 153rd and 159th avenues. City Engineer Tom Collins said if the council approves a bid at its Aug. 6 meeting, work would begin this year and continue into next year.
Kirkeide said the city could have just purchased the land it needed because the two buildings would not have been impacted by the new road, but it would have left the property owner with a substandard lot and it was just simpler and cleaner for the city to purchase the whole lot. The city allowed time for SAA to buy the property, but when negotiations did not go anywhere, the city offered to buy the land for $175,000.
According to a report from Building Official Jim Adams and Fire Chief Don Krueger, SAA is in a Menards manufactured pole building constructed in 1975. It got new siding in 2004, but there continue to be numerous safety and aesthetic issues.
For example, electrical problems included open wiring, a broken switch, a missing cover plate and a broken ceiling light fixture. There is a bracket for a fire extinguisher in one location, but no fire extinguisher. One backup exit door is blocked.
The facility also had numerous areas of broken Sheetrock from being hit with balls, according to the report.
The building occupied by an antique store had so much stuff in it that an exit door and a fire extinguisher were blocked and items were stored too close to the furnace, according to the report.
Both buildings had many gaps in the exterior. Reiner said that birds were living in some of these crevices in the antique store’s building.
There was evidence of roof leaks having occurred. An exterior wall of the antique store’s building was bowing, so Reiner questioned the structural integrity.
There were numerous other code compliance violations Reiner listed in his report, but these were just examples.
“I was frankly appalled by the conditions we saw in there,” Councilmember Tom Johnson said at the June 4 council meeting when talking about the SAA-leased building. “I don’t think any of us considered the building safe to be occupied by children.”
Zimmer said five to six kids could only be in the building if they were with an SAA coach. He said baseball coaches use the building on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays while the fast pitch coaches use it on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Weekends are for clinics and open gym. Meetings of the board, umpires and coaches take place there and the operations manager has an office. During the off-season, equipment is stored there.
Van Kirk suggested and the rest of the council agreed June 4 that the city should correct the most urgent safety hazards until SAA could find a new home.
According to Nivala, the city hired a contractor to fix the electrical problems at cost of $344.11. Other repairs were handled by the public works department. The city paid for the repairs with rent revenue it now receives from SAA.
Zimmer thanked the city for doing the repairs, but SAA is looking for a longer term solution and he said the city and SAA have a great opportunity to continue working together.
Eric Hagen is at email@example.com