‘Mission’ must install sprinklers

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 18, 1999

Before the "Mission" can continue to house Hispanic workers in Austin, it must satisfy the state of Minnesota’s fire code.

Thursday, November 18, 1999

Before the "Mission" can continue to house Hispanic workers in Austin, it must satisfy the state of Minnesota’s fire code.

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Roger Jemming of Albert Lea, a Deputy State Fire Marshall supervisor, conducted an inspection Monday of the facility in Lansing Township along Old Highway 218 north of Austin.

Now classified as a R-1 dormitory dwelling, according to the Mower County zoning ordinance, it is lacking fire sprinklers as required by the ordinance.

"The owner must submit a plan of correction," said Jemming. "That plan could include reducing the number of beds they have – now 26 – or the occupancy. Also, my inspection found a need for smoke detectors."

Jemming’s investigation Monday was done at the request of an anonymous citizen. While the state’s Data Privacy Act prevents Jemming from identifying that person, Mower County officials and staff told the Austin City Council a week ago, they had requested the inspection.

There are other violations in Jemming’s report that require action within 30, 60 or 90 days, respectively. He did not detail them.

The fire sprinkler violation must be addressed in 90 days.

Jemming said he plans a follow-up visit to the site in a month, while waiting for the owner to file a plan of correction.

The facility is the former Sunset Motel. The property is owned by John Jacob and Metro Temp Employment Agency, Inc. of Des Moines, Iowa is lease-purchasing it for a transitional housing facility for workers it has recruited to Austin.

Metro Temp Employment Agency, Inc. has a similar agreement with the owner of a farm home in Lyle Township near the intersection of Highway 105 South and Mower County CSAH No. 5.

While the city of Austin has an ambitious low- and medium-income housing program underway, that housing, where completed for occupancy, is out of the price range of workers who come to Austin for employment.

Transitional housing needed by the workers until they can afford to move up and into affordable housing is non-existent.

When residents of the former Sunset Motel — described by one Metro Temp representative as a "mission" for the disadvantaged — went to a recent Austin City Council meeting to complain of inhabitable conditions there, it set off an apparent tiff between the city and Mower County.

Because it is located in Lansing Township and outside the Austin city limits, it is within the county’s, not the city’s , jurisdiction.

When Mower County and city of Austin officials and staff met a week ago to talk about the issue of inadequate or non-existent transitional housing, the county representatives hedged on detailing what the county’s interest in the issue were or exactly what was being done to verify the complaints of over-crowding and health, building and fire safety code violations there may be at both facilities in Lansing and Lyle townships.

There has been much conjecture over the exact number of people and/or beds at the mission facility.

While Deputy State Fire Marshall supervisor Jemming said the figure given him was 26 beds, other observers close to the scene say there has never been more than "8 or 10" people at the Lansing Township facility at any one time.