The Rockford City Council, at its June 25 meeting, voted unanimously to close the Lions Building in Riverside Park early next summer.
The building, built as a volunteer effort by the Lions, is attached to the covered picnic area and is the only indoor facility in the park. It was built in the 1985 using Hennepin County Community Block Grant Funds, and the décor reflects the era with paneled walls and low ceilings. The aesthetics, however, is not the issue prompting closure. Concerned over its condition, the council moved to hire Metro West Inspection Services to inspect the building and deliver a report as to the feasibility of continued use with safety being the number one concern.
The report, dated April 5 by inspector Loren Kohnen, cites: building interior is in fair condition, and poor condition structurally; there is an odor inside the building which could be mold; the restrooms are shown to be a storm shelter, but the area is not adequate for that purpose — it is too small and there is no reinforced concrete ceiling.
In conclusion, Kohnen reports, “ I would recommend the building be used one more year and then replaced. If there are storm warnings, the building must not be used and/or be vacated.”
Mayor Renee Hafften told the council that she thought it was important to set a date for discontinuing use, primarily to comply with the recommendation in the report and to give staff a date to stop taking reservations. Currently, the city has received requests to rent the building in the spring and summer of 2014, and needed some direction.
The building will remain open for rentals through June 22, 2014.
The council has been working on plans for an event center on land the acquired adjacent to the park, but has not voted to move ahead on the project at this time. Cost has been the primary reason – projected at over a million dollars – the proposed center, in its latest rendition, could seat as many as 300 and would come equipped with a catering kitchen, skylights and windows overlooking the Crow River as well as other updated amenities. The council, during a recent meeting, discussed the feasibility of enlarging the existing plans to accommodate 400. Open houses for the business and residential communities have been hosted by the council and staff. Plans, including costs estimates, were made available, and discussion over the need for an event center entertained. Though lightly attended, those who spoke were divided in their support of building a new event center. The council has continued discussion on this matter but no action has been taken.
The Lions building has been host for decades to all kinds of community gatherings and family milestones including graduation and reunions. Although capacity is limited to about 60, it has provided some shelter from sun and rain and has been used year-round.
Resident Erin Soukup addressed the council regarding a safety issue on her street.
Soukup and her family live on the corner of Maple Drive and Utility Drive, which is next to city property that houses the Rockford Fire Department and the public works department. Utility Drive is a private drive, for property owners and emergency vehicles only, but has become a through road for many motorists, according to Soukup, and she is concerned that children will go into the street to retrieve toys given the slope of her property, putting them in harm’s way. She also stated that there is an inconvenience with the public using the street, she describes drivers as being careless and disrespectful, blocking her driveway and cutting her off.
Dennis Peterson, Rockford Public Works Supervisor, suggested that she be allowed to buy some cast off fencing the city has for a nominal fee, which the council supported, and install it along the street side of Soukup’s yard to deter toys and children from going into the road. Peterson also said he would look into the cost of an electronic gate that authorized users could access. Additional signage alerting motorists that the drive is “private” was also discussed. Other than approving the proposed sale of fencing, there was no official action taken on this matter.
The city is moving closer to implementing fire inspections for commercial and rental properties. This process was begun a few months back, and the fire department now has members trained to perform inspections. The intent of the inspections is to provide safe working and living conditions. This also improves response actions to emergency calls, as the department will have information about the layout of buildings in advance.
The cost and specifics are still being worked out, but state law dictates the associated fees are in line with the cost of the services provided.
Inspections will focus on building exteriors, egress, construction features, storage, fire extinguishers, sprinkler systems (if applicable), fire alarms, electrical systems and hazardous materials. There was no action taken, and this item will be revisited at a future meeting.
The next regular meeting of the Rockford City Council is Tuesday, July 9, at 7 p.m. at the Rockford City hall, 6031 Main St.