Midtown gym is open… for now

After a lengthy public hearing and discussion at the Sabetha City Commission meeting on Monday, Jan. 13, the commissioners voted 3-2 to re-open the Midtown gym until two bids for demolition have been received by the city. This was decided after Commissioner Nick Aberle made a motion to rescind the board’s previous decision to demolish the Midtown Building. The board then voted 3-2 to table this motion until a future meeting.

The Sabetha City Commission met at 6 p.m. Monday, Jan. 13. Board members present were 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 Aberle. Also, nearly 40 guests were present for the Midtown Building public hearing.

Clark opened the public hearing on the Midtown Building — stating the rules for the public hearing, which included signing up to speak to the commission. Those speaking had a five-minute limit and were required to state their name and where they live before speaking.

Twelve patrons spoke to the commissioners regarding the demolition of the Midtown Building, located at 100 Main Street in Sabetha.

Jessica McCulloch of Fairview, who is in favor of keeping the Midtown Building open, was the first to speak to the commission. She started by asking questions regarding about the arbitrary quotes given previously.

Allen said that the rough estimate for demolition was $150,000.

“We have already bid the asbestos removal, and it was about $6,000 to $7,000,” Allen said.

“What is the monthly expense for upkeep and utilities?” McCulloch said.

“We’re looking at about $40,000 per year,” Allen said.

Aberle said he had Compo look up the exact numbers for the building.

“I had [Steve] Compo look it up,” Aberle said. “It was $13,083 for insurance, $14,240 for electricity, $2,912 for gas, which comes to a total of $30,234. You also might note the time frame on that was from December 2017 through November 2018, while the fitness center [in the Midtown Building] was actively being used 24 hours a day.”

“That does not include anything that we had to do for clean-up,” Schmitt said. “Thanks for those estimates, but we did reiterate earlier in discussions that we do not have a firm bid yet on demolition, so $150,000 is arbitrary and is not an actual number.”

McCulloch asked how often the building was cleaned and maintained. Allen responded, saying the City used to have a contract with N.C.T.C., but since the city has moved out, it hasn’t been cleaned by N.C.T.C. Allen also said that, as for the outside, the City still mows and does landscaping.

“That wasn’t included with these costs, though,” Schmitt said.

McCulloch then said she had started a petition and had gotten “a little over 100 signatures” on the petition, which she presented to the commissioners after the hearing.

Nancy Flentie of Sabetha spoke to the commissioners next. She questioned if there had been any interest from an outside party to purchase the property and take full control over it.

“I don’t know of any,” Allen said.

“Has it been advertised?” Flentie asked.

“No,” Allen said

Flentie then said she was curious why the City wants to spend $150,000 to tear down a building that could be of use to someone.

“If it hasn’t been promoted, maybe it should be and there might be someone out there that might be interested and would save the city a lot of money, and it may benefit the community also,” she said.

JD Jackman of Sabetha spoke next, saying he was in favor of keeping Midtown for the community for sports and other things.

“It benefits our community,” Jackman said.

Brett Lukert of Sabetha spoke next, saying he appreciated what the commissioners’ responsibilities are and recognized that it is not an easy job.

“I know there are hard decisions to be made,” Lukert said. “I am proud of our wellness center and I was on that board for nine years. I am very thankful as it is a huge asset to our community. Last I heard, family memberships were upwards of 600 and individuals were 900, and so that tells me it is doing well.”

“Personally, I view Midtown as a separate service,” Lukert said. “It offers a recreational alternative than what is currently being offered at the wellness center. I guess my proposal would be trying to leave Midtown open for six months and see how it’s responding with our community and re-evaluate at that time.”

Lukert recommends putting the “bare minimum” into utilities during the six month timeframe.

“Once it is torn down, it is permanent and we can’t ever get that back,” Lukert said. “So before we make a permanent decision, personally, I would just like to see it [Midtown Building] be utilized as an option. Personally, I don’t think that you can have too many gyms in the community, especially when we have one that is fully functional, as is. It is nice to have that available.”

Trevor Wendler of Sabetha said even though he has a membership to the new Sabetha Health and Wellness Center, Midtown is still a nice place to go to play basketball.

Doug Whittaker of Sabetha said he loves it, from a Boy Scout perspective.

“We can go in there and do activities when the weather is bad. We have really missed it at our scout meetings.”

Whittaker asked if the Boy Scout building would be safe, even if Midtown was torn down. The board confirmed that it was safe.

“The Boy Scouts appreciate the facility, and it is nice to do things at our meetings,” Whittaker said.

Jason Enneking of Sabetha asked if the board had considered salvaging the gym. Clark explained that an architect looked at the structure and had concerns about salvaging the gym, due to one wall being a part of the original building, as the gym was added on to the building at a later time.

“I think it is valuable to the community to keep the gym,” Enneking said.

Paul Compo of Sabetha said he believes the benefit to having the gym is stronger right now than the cost of upkeeping it.

Jay Barber of Sabetha said the city has put money toward the Sabetha Health and Wellness Center, so they should put money toward the Midtown gym as well.

“You donated $100,000 last year to the fitness center, and you guaranteed them two years at $10,000 a month for their salaries. So that is $240,000 that you guys are going to have in the fitness center,” Barber said. “So why can’t you put 1/4 or 1/2 of that money back into Midtown for recreation.”

“Norm said that it wasn’t up to Sabetha to furnish recreation,” Barber said. “We furnish all the ball parks and swimming pool, and tennis courts, so why can’t we keep that going instead of tearing it down? Keep it [Midtown] up and keep it half way decent for everyone to enjoy. It would be a big plus for Sabetha. It has been since 1923.”

Dwight Edelman of Sabetha said he goes to the fitness center and loves it, but the town is quickly outgrowing the facility.

“We go up there to play pickleball quite often, but I will say, last time there were like 26 kids up there,” Edelman said. “Some of them were playing basketball, some were socializing, but we felt somewhat pressured to get off the court, and it’s almost becoming a competition to reserve a court to even get to play anymore. I agree with trying to see if six months would identify if there are other opportunities and maybe someone could use it [Midtown] for something. If it [Sabetha Health and Wellness Center] keeps going the way it’s going and people keep wanting to go to the fitness center, it’s going to be a problem, because there is not enough space for everyone that wants to use it.”

Sara Homan of Fairview also said she was in favor of keeping Midtown open.

“My thoughts are that we should be looking to build up to enhance our community by creating an environment where our children can grow, flourish and become vital and valuable in our community and to raise a family and prosper,” she said.

Lynn Hennigan of Sabetha asked about the lifetime of the roof and asked how many years it has left.

Shroyer and Allen said the roof had a touch-up job done on it in the early 2000s.

“In my real estate work and on farms, when the roof fails, the building fails, and if you drive around to all of these little towns around us, that have had their schools consolidated, a local has bought the building and filled it with crap,” Hennigan said, “The roof has failed and it’s all decayed. I don’t want to live next to that, so that is the concern of a private person wanting to buy the building. So I think whichever direction the City decides to go, that is their choice, but you have to be very thorough in encompassing on what the costs of maintaining this building are going to be.”

Following the public comment portion of the meeting, Clark asked if any commissioner wanted to make a motion regarding the Midtown Building.

Aberle then motioned to rescind the board’s previous motion to demolition the building.

“I would move that we rescind that, so that we can have the discussion and conversation that would encompass all the comments we heard and the ones we personally feel ourselves, so that they can be brought out on the table in front of all of us, so we can vote on it and in front of the people that came to hear it.”

Clark reminded the board that there needed to be a second on the motion in order to discuss it.

“If someone seconds the motion, that does not mean that they have to vote in favor of the motion when the vote comes,” Clark said. “It just means they are wanting to have the discussion.”

Burenheide seconded the motion to discuss rescinding the board’s decision.

Aberle started the discussion — saying that the board had heard a lot at the public hearing, as well as over the past few months and years.

“I have a petition here from Jessica from a month ago that represents 129 different people, which breaks down into 23 families, of which at least 12 are in the immediate area,” Aberle said. “Two of those families live in the city limits, but 12 counting the two, live in the immediate area, which includes the same distance we consider for city employees or Sabetha community, whether its extraterritorial or could be Fairview or Morrill.”

Schmitt questioned Aberle’s statement saying, “So two can vote and two are taxpayers within the city limits, is that correct?”

“Two are property taxpayers. I didn’t ask them, but I know one of them pays a lot of taxes,” Aberle said.

Aberle continued, saying that he felt like the board had not done their due diligence on the building, and the City of Sabetha had not maintained it like it should have been.

“My point is, I think we could have done better,” Aberle said.

Aberle also said he was “disappointed in the insistence that it costs the city $40,000 per year to maintain it,” when he doesn’t believe that to be factual.

“My proposal is that we re-open the gym portion of it, re-open the building portion, finish cleaning it and get a shop vac and a mop,” Aberle said. “It’s doable, it’s not that hard, and then open it and let it be known that people have the opportunity to do something with it.”

Julie agreed, saying the building needs work, such as painting parts of the outside and the roof.

“In a six month period, we can figure out real numbers,” Aberle said. “I think we need to have real numbers to make a real decision.”

“I think that is our job if we want to spend the taxpayers’ money,” Burenheide said. “We have to know what we are talking about.”

“If you decide to leave it open for the next six months, my question is how expensive would it be to put in a card swipes like what we have at the fitness center,” Wittmer said. “We cannot afford with the taxpayers’ money to just say, here it is free. I mean, we have people wanting to use this building, mainly because there is no charge. If we have a card swipes and we charge an amount for them to use it, then at least we have a little bit coming in for the next six months, even if it doesn’t cover the expense.”

“And we would have more regular people using that building and not just the riff-raff,” Wittmer said. “Set up card swipes for six months, have them come in and get a membership for a minimal fee. Enough to make them pay a little bit to go in that building.”

Aberle disagreed that there should be a charge to use to use the facility.

“Where in this world can you go anywhere for free?” Wittmer said.

“Well, you can go to the bathroom free over here, 24 hours a day,” Aberle said.

“You can go to nice parks and play for free too,” Wittmer said.

“Right, and that is a very nice thing that Sabetha and their partners have provided,” Aberle said.

“But that is different,” Wittmer said.

Clark then said he was hearing a lot of good things and motioned to table Aberle’s motion of rescinding the board’s previous motion in order to get some more information. Wittmer, Burenheide and Clark voted in favor of tabling the motion for a future meeting. Schmitt and Aberle were opposed.

“In light of this being tabled, I would make a motion to the rescinding motion being tabled, that we keep it [the gym] open until we receive at least two bids for demolition and let the city work out the details to control access to the building, as well as determining when the gym will be open,” Aberle said.

Burenheide seconded Aberle’s motion.

Motion passed 3-2, with Schmitt and Wittmer opposed.

See full meeting minutes on Page 6 of this week’s Herald.

Heather Stewart187 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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