Controlled burn may take down grandstand

A burning question for the county could soon be answered.

The Austin Fire Department and the county board are considering a controlled burn on Dec. 8 to demolish the condemned grandstand at the Mower County Fairgrounds.

“They’re real excited about being able to do it,” Commissioner Mike Ankeny said of the fire department.

County Coordinator Craig Oscarson described the option as a win-win in that the county would have the structure demolished at a fraction of the typical cost and local fire departments would gain experience.

The board didn’t vote Tuesday, but commissioners spoke favorably of the option to work with the fire department and potentially rural fire departments.

“The cost to us would be very minimal,” Ankeny said.

The fire departments would likely start and stop the fire multiple times to maintain control.

“They’re very confident they can burn it with no damage to other buildings,” Oscarson said.

Before a burn could take place, a contractor would have to check for asbestos, all fluorescent lights would need to be removed, officials would check for lead paints, and nearby homeowners would need to be informed of the burn.

Ankeny said Austin Fire Chief Mickey Healey estimated about 95 percent of the grandstand could be burned. The rest would be hauled away.

Though the board hasn’t officially approved demolition, Ankeny and Commissioner Jerry Reinartz have said it is fairly certain that the grandstand will be demolished.

Commissioner Tim Gabrielson noted that one resident contacted him interested in repairing the grandstand to keep the structure for historic purposes. The person suggested seeking grants from the Minnesota Historical Society. However, Gabrielson noted he didn’t necessarily agree with the person, and Gabrielson spoke favorably of demolition.

The grandstand was built in the 1930s, but commissioners said aside from the structure being old, they don’t necessarily consider it historic. The roof was replaced in the 1960s, and Ankeny said that may diminish the historic nature and may hurt the chance of receiving grant dollars.

The Mower County Historical Society has not shown interest in preserving the structure, according to commissioners.

While the board hasn’t decided on the best way to replace the aged grandstand, commissioners discussed taking action quickly so the fair board can begin planning for the 2013 fair.

“If we’re going to do something, we almost need to do something sooner than later,” Gabrielson said.

Reinartz noted the grandstand is a wooden structure, and he noted it would likely eventually deteriorate beyond repair.

The board could officially approve demolition as soon as its Oct. 9 meeting.

Healey: Grandstand would offer hands-on training

If the Austin Fire Department gets to use the Mower County Grandstand, it’ll be a welcome training opportunity, according to Fire Chief Mickey Healey.

“We really appreciate any time we can get hands-on training,” Healey said Wednesday morning.

According to Healey, Austin firefighters would burn parts of the Grandstand in order to get practice putting out the fire, while the rest would be systematically burned in a controlled manner. In addition, the Austin Fire Department would invite all other fire departments in Mower County to take part in exercises, if the Mower County Board of Commissioners allows the grandstand to burn down.

“At this point, we’re trying to put it all together,” Healey said.

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