Sabetha commissioners revisit Midtown decision

After deciding to tear the Midtown Building down during the Monday, Oct. 28, meeting, the Sabetha City Commission had an in- depth conversation regarding their previous decision, which was unanimous.

The discussion was held during the commission’s regular meeting at 6 p.m. Monday, Nov. 25, at Sabetha City Hall. Present for the discussion was Mayor Doug Clark, Commissioners Norm Schmitt, Nick Aberle, Maridel Wittmer and Julie Burenheide, City Administrator Doug Allen, Assistant City Administrator Bill Shroyer and City Clerk Steve Compo. Also present were City Attorney Martin Mishler, and guests Bob Ruddick, Brett Lukert, Shana Aberle, Greta Heiman, Glenn Hennigan, and Jessica and James McCulloch and two of their children.

Since Commissioner Aberle requested the topic to be put on the agenda, he started the conversation by saying he felt like the city wasn’t doing their “due diligence on the property as a whole.”

“All the questions and assumptions that I feel like we’ve been operating on throughout this whole discussion was the building is no good,” he said. “It’s condemned. Actually, it was never condemned. The school just didn’t want to put the money into it to make it a school.”

Commissioner Aberle said the reason he is bringing the topic back up – despite the unanimous vote – was because he has been contacted by at least 10 people who want the commission to reconsider their previous decision.

“The Main Event kept popping in my mind,” he said. “The National Guard got rid of it and blessed us with it. We spent a lot of money on it before it was ever The Main Event, but there was a purpose for that building to make it something that Sabetha didn’t have. Residents had a vision for it, and they wanted to do it enough that they put their own money into it, and they convinced us to put a lot of money in it, and it serves our community well.”

Commissioner Aberle said since there were citizens calling him, that there was probably people who feel like the Midtown Building has enough potential to make the building into something else for Sabetha, whether a private entity develops it or the city re-purposes it.

“I think in our discussions we have been totally locked into this mindset that it was strictly an exercise facility and gymnasium,” he said. “I think it would be more prudent and wise to look at it more as it’s a building that we used for a City Hall, the police were housed there, and the Girl Scouts used to have a room there. It happened to have an exercise room built into the southwest corner of the bottom floor. We’ve also used it for storage, and we’ve continued to use it for storage.”

“Have you had someone interested in it?” Commissioner Wittmer said.

“Yes,” Commissioner Aberle said. “I’ve heard from people who like to use the gym for non-gym related things, such as the Boy Scouts. When they meet, oftentimes they will go into the gym and they will do an activity.”

“We have an event center,” Wittmer said. “We don’t need a second. What would a building like that be used for?”

“I don’t know,” Aberle said.

“I think what we have done is discussed in a forum what it costs us to keep it in operation and the issues we have with that,” Schmitt said. “So remember the issues.”

“What are those issues?” Aberle said.

“The homeless,” Schmitt said. “The people who go in there all the time. I am going to recap what our police chief told us. The homeless that we are involved with right now – to define that – are habitual drug offenders and habitual sex offenders. All of which have burned through every job that they could potentially get in our community.”

Schmitt also said the structure is not ADA compliant.

“What do we do with the restrooms?” he said. “What do we do with everything else in there? How about fire protection? I mean, I understand the asbestos part of it, but if we’re going to repurpose, one of the things that we absolutely would have to do – per our responsibility – is do exactly what you said. Do an audit. And then every part of that would have to be brought up to spec.”

“I am surprised there hasn’t been a fire in that building,” Wittmer said.

“If we had the homeless there, we definitely would,” Schmitt said.

“The Wellness Center, they did a dollar figure, what it did it cost to keep the gym open?” Clark said.

“That is where I am going with this whole thing,” Aberle said. “I don’t know if it’s the most cost effective thing for the city to own it, but I do think there are people that would buy it. And I think that you would be stipulated that the appearance can be controlled and I have a hard time believing that a private person wouldn’t maintain it better than what the city does.”

“I am going to use an example of Morrill, Oneida and Fairview,” Schmitt said. “They [buildings] just deteriorate and fall down. Then we have to deal with that piece on top of it.”

“But if someone buys it because they like the structure, they think it looks good and it has good bones and they want to spend some of their money to redevelop it into say town homes or apartments, there is nothing to say that they couldn’t do that,” Aberle said.

“I have probably had the same people call me,” Burenheide said. “They had a solid plan, and the city wasn’t involved with keeping it up. They had a start-up and how they were going to do it and how it’s going to end up being. I don’t see why would we would not look at that notion.”

“I just want to remind everybody and I know the Mayor will, but we did a binding decision two to three weeks ago,” Schmitt said.

“That’s true, but we also voted unanimously once to change a stop sign,” Aberle said.

“Let me tell you how you have to rescind this,” Schmitt said. “One, we can’t do it tonight, because we have to have advance notice that that is exactly what you want to do. Then when you do that, we have to have at least 2/3 vote, and in a five group meeting, that’s four – 3.333 – to do this, and you’re going to have to do that in this quarter, which is three months.”

Wittmer added that she has not had anyone come to her about saving the building, while Clark added that he had only had people contact him about using the building free of charge.

Clark asked Allen if when the board voted to tear the building down, if it was contingent on getting a bid.

Allen said no, but that the City would be working on getting bids, even though they have not asked for them as of yet.

“The asbestos company is supposed to be here Monday [Dec. 2] to take out the asbestos,” Allen said. “He is supposed to give some extra names of demolition companies and we’ll do the lower one.”

“So in the whole culmination of that, does it make sense for the City to spend $150,000 [the bid previously given by Herrmann Earth Moving] to clear a building if they could find somebody to buy it?” Commissioner Aberle asked.

“As long as it’s conditional, but the minute that it goes beyond that, we have another issue,” Commissioner Schmitt said.

Aberle agreed.

Schmitt asked for proof that the building wasn’t previously condemned.

“It has not been condemned,” Mishler said. “I know it hasn’t.”

“And you have documentation on that?” Schmitt said. “I would like to see that.”

“There is no documentation that it was, until it is,” Mishler said. “The reverse is true, Norm. Until it is documented that it was condemned, it has not been. That’s just how that functions.”

“I would challenge that” Schmitt said. “Do we know if the document exists, absolutely know?”

“Yes,” Mishler said. “The way that process works, is you, as a governing body, make a determination that it’s [Midtown] a nuisance and condemn it. You’ve never done that. I know you haven’t.”

“I meant from the school’s aspect,” Schmitt said. “Not from us.”

‘The school doesn’t have any authority to condemn property,” Mishler said.

“Well, the school did something when they turned it over to us, Martin, when they owned it,” Schmitt said “That’s what I am going back to. When they turned it over to us, I would like to see that document.”

“There is a contract between the city and school,” Mishler said.

“That is what I would like to see,” Schmitt said. “My challenge is what happened prior to that?”

Mishler agreed to get copies of the contract to the board.

Patron Brett Lukert said he doesn’t believe that Midtown is competition for Sabetha Health and Wellness Center (SHWC).

“I think they serve totally different purposes,” Lukert said. “I think the fitness and wellness [SHWC] is designed for fitness and wellness.”

“I think the rec [recreation] center is designed for recreation. I think that is a need in our community, especially in the spring, we’re going to need an indoor place for our softball teams to use,” Lukert said. “Midtown was perfect for that. There is a need for indoor places to use. I think it is important that we have that.”

Lukert also said he thinks everything needs to be considered before tearing it down.

“If it’s torn down, then it’s torn down, but as long as it’s not deemed a hazard, and it’s deemed functional, I think it should be used,” Lukert said.

“Just to add to his comment, just so everybody remembers,” Schmitt said. “We agreed to subsidize the Health and Wellness Center [SHWC] 100 percent and to close Midtown. There is a cost to keep that facility open and to keep it maintained and have a watch, because we have damage that occurs out there on a regular basis because it is not manned.”

“So one of the ideas, when we decided that we would take on the Health and Wellness Center [SHWC], it was a maintained operated facility and it would operate to take the functions away from that Midtown Building, so we didn’t have to support it any longer,” Schmitt said. “So I think if that’s the case, then maybe we should ask the school, if they want it back.”

“Whether we tear it down or keep it just to let people use it — it’s an expense to the city with insurance, utilities and upkeep,” Wittmer said. “Just to open the door and say, ‘okay you can use it free.’ The city cannot afford that.”

“Is there anything that can’t be done in the wellness center?” Mayor Clark asked of Greta Heiman, SHWC director.

“Softball, baseball and hitting on our floor cannot happen,” Heiman said.

“What about parties or other things?” Clark said.

“I mean, of course, it depends on what they are doing in there. Our main concern is the care of the floor and the longevity of the floor,” Heiman said.

Clark asked if softball practice could take place in The Main Event.

“No,” Allen said.

Schmitt asked whether or not there were other facilities that could be used for softball practice.

Allen said that Dr. James Longabaugh and Stan Keim have facilities for these activities.

“So there are two facilities,” Schmitt said. “It’s wrong to say there aren’t facilities.”

“I said softball,” Lukert said. “Keim’s [facility] is used for baseball.”

“So, how does softball differ from baseball?” Schmitt said.

“Baseball — it’s an awesome facility that Keims have for the performance center and that’s great, but we [softball teams] haven’t had anything available for recreational usage. I am sure they get bombarded with that. I use Dr. [James] Longabaugh’s [facility]. It’s great, but it’s more geared towards a smaller group.”

“But there are two facilities in the community that can be used,” Schmitt said.

“Not that softball teams have available,” Lukert said

“But they can be used for that,” Schmitt said.

“I don’t want to speculate,” Lukert said

“I’m not asking for speculation,” Schmitt said. “They are there. We just named them off.”

“Those are private entities though,” Lukert said. “That’s my question. If it’s [Midtown] closed down is the city going to have a recreational alternative?”

“Why are we obligated to?” Commissioner Schmitt said.

“We, as a city, have always had an indoor recreation place,” Commissioner Aberle said. “We still do and it’s next to dispatch. But it’s similar to Dr. Longbaugh’s.”

“I want to see these rules,” Schmitt said. “I want see where it was laid down that we are always providing an indoor facility.”

“It’s [Midtown] more than a gym,” Aberle said. “I just want us to look at it and make a better decision than just tearing it down and offering no alternatives for what we put there.”

Patron Jessica McCulloch spoke to the board about how important Midtown is to her family.

“Our family used to use the gym privately just during the evening hours,” she said. “My husband is a chef, so our schedule is kind of wacky and that is something we enjoyed.”

“I would take them [our children] during the week, and NorthRidge used to use the gym quite frequently, and they would actually be able to play basketball there with some of the youth in the community, and it was good. It’s not competition with the wellness center [SHWC],” Jessica McCulloch said. “It just gives people a more economical choice for the families that are not able to pay for a gym membership.”

Schmitt reminded the board that they made a binding decision that would need to be rescinded.

“Otherwise, Doug [Allen], continue on [getting bids for demolition], there is nothing to say for you to stop,” Schmitt said.

Rescinding Binding Decisions

Following the meeting, Mishler stated that the City of Sabetha previously adopted a new city code.

“When we adopted the new city code, we also adopted the Code of Procedure for Kansas cities – replacing Robert’s Rules of Order – which is a simpler method of conducting meetings,” Mishler said. “In order to rescind prior action taken by the commission, any commissioner needs to simply proffer a motion which would do so. It can be done by a simple majority vote.”

Also at the meeting:

The commissioners approved the minutes from the Monday, Nov. 11, meeting, and a liquor license for Southside Grill.

The commissioners went into a 20-minute executive session with attorney-client privilege. Following the executive session, no binding action was taken.

The commissioners will meet at 6 p.m. Monday, Dec. 9, for their regular meeting at Sabetha City Hall.

Heather Stewart188 Posts

Heather Stewart is a reporter for The Sabetha Herald, where she has been on staff since 2015. She specializes in court and sports reporting, as well as photography. Heather is a 2011 Kansas State University graduate with a degree in psychology. She lives in Sabetha with her husband.

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