Study says renovate Armory and build new city hall

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A study of Benson’s 1927 Armory building recommends tearing off the two-story office space, adding a new entry and bathrooms, and building a new city hall/police department.

Armory main floor, gymnasium safe for public use

A structural and environmental study of the Benson Armory building shows that for the most part it is safe for the public to use.

However, it also says that the two-story front office space on the 1927 building should be removed and replaced. Engineering and architectural firm Widseth, Smith and Nolting (WSN) of Alexandria, did the study, with architect Reed Becker overseeing it.

Benson’s City Council had been exploring the possibility of remodeling the Armory for use as a new city hall, police department, or possibly both. However, during a tour of the building in October, it found mold growing in the basement, paint peeling off the walls, and pipes wrapped with a material that likely contained asbestos.

It led the council to order the environmental study to ensure the building was safe for the Benson High School gymnastics program use, for roller skating, walkers, and for events.

Based on the study, is the building safe for the public to use now? Council Member Terri Collins asked Becker at Monday night’s council meeting. That was the council’s primary concern, she said.

“If you don’t go downstairs, it probably is,” Becker said. “You don’t want anyone going down in that lower level. It is not a good environment.”

The gymnasium space of the building is okay for the walkers, roller-skating and gymnastics, at this time, he said.

City Manager Rob Wolfington pointed out that District 777 Supt. Dennis Laumeyer had a copy of the complete study on the Armory.

While the council listened to the report on the Armory Monday night, it made do decisions and had only limited comments about it.

Structural study

When he inspected the building, Reed told the council he brought with him a structural engineer and an environmental engineer. It is like it is three different buildings, he said, with the gymnasium area, the north storage area, and the two-story front office structure.

The gymnasium is really in pretty good structural shape, he said. It does need an upgrade of the mechanical, electrical and heating-cooling-ventilation (HVAC) systems, but it is a “pretty fixable building,” he said. The new HVAC system would also improve air quality in the building, which currently has no ventilation system.

The long area on the north side of the building is also in good shape, but it is only 15 feet wide, which limits what it can be used for.

However, the two-story office space and basement under it are quite a different story, Becker told the council. The tile floor contains asbestos, the mastic that holds the tile down contains asbestos, and the paint that is peeling off contains lead. There are also pipes wrapped with an asbestos-containing material.

The building is also not handicapped accessible with a two-step front entry.

When standing in the basement looking up at the concrete main floor, there is steel rebar sticking out and it is rusting, weakening the floor. At some point in the past, someone added wood support columns under the main floor. “It was better than nothing, but wood holding up concrete is not a good structural idea,” he said.

Two options became clear after going through the building, Becker said.

One option is a complete renovation of the Armory for use as a community center and building a new city hall/police department at another location....


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Pictured:  A study of Benson’s 1927 Armory building recommends tearing off the two-story office space, adding a new entry and bathrooms, and building a new city hall/police department.

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