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Demolition of Atlantic Avenue elevator starts this week

Lead Summary

By Reed Anfinson
Motorists traveling through Benson on Minnesota Highway 9 are now encountering a road closure and detour as work begins to tear down the large concrete elevator on the south side of the road.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation expects the demolition and road closure to be in effect for two weeks, it stated in a news release it sent out last Thursday.
During the closure, the detour route will include U.S. Highway 12, Swift County Road 3, and Swift County Road 20.
While the City of Benson had been talking about taking down the elevator for nearly a decade, it was motivated to act quickly this past spring when a powerful derecho storm swept through western Minnesota damaging the structure.
Winds of over 85 mph May 12 caused considerable damage to the metal buildings surrounding the concrete elevator resulting in several being torn down shortly after. A large metal door on the west side of what was once the entrance to the grain dumping area was torn off, with parts ending up high in a tree across the street.
To give its authority to act quickly to tear down the Atlantic Avenue elevator, the city council voted June 6 to extend the emergency powers resolution originally passed after the May 12 severe storm.
“I get nervous every time the wind cranks up,” City Manager Glen Pederson told the council at that June 6 meeting. He worries that already damaged parts of the remaining metal structures could collapse. The city owns the elevator.
With the emergency powers resolution in effect, the council could act without going through the time-consuming process of developing plans, adopting specifications for bids, advertising for bids, and then approving them. Pederson told the council the city could save up to two months in the process of removing the damaged elevator.
Kennedy Excavating of Benson was hired to take down the storm-damaged portions of the elevator in May. It was then asked to submit a bid for tearing down the remaining structures. Pederson told the Monitor-News Monday that Kennedy’s bid was $214,900. However, he expects permitting, signage for the detours, and other costs associated with the demolition to be between $30,000 and $40,000.
Benson had to get permission from Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Railroad for the permits required to work adjacent to its tracks. It worked with the MnDOT and Swift County on detour routes during the demolition.
Damage to the structure wasn’t the only reason the council wanted to see the elevator and surrounding buildings torn down.
In March 2017, the Monitor-News reported that someone climbed to the top of the elevator and spray-painted graffiti onto the tin building at the top.
That vandalism, and the risk the person took in doing it, exposing the city to potential liability, are good reasons why the structure should be taken down as soon as possible, then Benson City Manager Rob Wolfington told the council.
“We need to do something to get rid of that elevator,” Council Member Jack Evenson said at an October 2020 meeting. The city can’t wait until someone falls off the building, intentionally or accidentally, to take it down, he said.
Graffiti on the metal structure at the top of the elevator is a sign that people have made it to the top of the building despite the city’s effort to secure the structure. In the past three years, law enforcement had to talk a young person off the edge of the top of the building. 
Evenson said that someone is going to fall inside or outside the elevator as they attempt to climb it. It has to come down one way or the other, he added.
Benson has been fortunate that there hasn’t been a tragedy already at the building, Mayor Terri Collins said. She also pointed out that law enforcement has said other crimes have been committed in the building.
In a memo to the council in November 2020, Benson Chief of Police Ian Hodge said there have been over 20 incidents at the elevator property in the past seven years. Drug use, sexual assault, and vandalism are among the crimes that have been investigated at the property. 
While the city has tried multiple times to secure the structure, people continually find ways to get in. At the time, the city had been reluctant to take more extensive measures on its own to secure it because it did not own the buildings.
Given the history of the buildings and the obvious dangers it presents, it would be a mistake not to buy it, Council Member Lucas Olson said at the November 2020 meeting. At the top of each city council agenda is says, “Benson is a forward-looking community that values public safety….” 
“If we are going to have that statement at the top of our agenda, we probably should hold ourselves accountable for it,” he said. It’s time to get rid of the elevator, and with the current offer there is an excellent opportunity to act, Olson said of the purchase price for the building it was given.
Benson’s council did purchase the concrete elevator and attached buildings for $25,000 from NFG, LLC, in November 2021 with the intention of one day tearing it down. However, securing the structure continued to be challenging even under its ownership.
In the past, the city worried about securing the building to keep people from entering it, Council Member Jon Buyck said at the June 6 meeting. Now, the only bar to entering it is the yellow tape strung around where the door once existed, he said.
Buying the buildings was the cheap part. It has been estimated that it could cost between $200,000 and $250,000 to take it down. It could also cost another $50,000 in consulting, engineering, administration and legal fees.
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