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No interest in historic 524 Norris Ave.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

McCOOK, Nebraska -- Red Willow County commissioners received absolutely no inquiries about nor a single bid to buy or demolish the two-story white-frame apartment house at 524 Norris, north of the county courthouse in McCook, Nebraska.

Commission chairman Earl McNutt said Monday, during the commissioners' weekly meeting, there is obviously no interest in saving the house. Commissioners had sought bids to purchase the house and garage, which would have had to have been moved off the lot in two pieces, or their bits-and-pieces salvaged and the lot cleared, to make way for, at this time, a parking lot.

Having been approached last year by the property's owners, Kenneth and Stannis Spencer, who were ready to retire from the rental business, commissioners bought the apartment house, garage and city lot in December 2009 for $50,000, thinking that the county could use the land for parking, expansion of the courthouse or construction of a jail.

The house is the former home of Ralph G. Brooks, who was McCook Public Schools superintendent and president of McCook Junior College in the 1940s and 1950s. He died in 1960, while serving as Nebraska's governor. The house is not on any official registry of historic places, although it is part of McCook's own "Heritage Square," which includes the Sen. George Norris Home, the home of former Nebraska Governor Frank Morrison, the Museum of the High Plains and Carnegie Library, the boyhood home of Sen. Ben Nelson, a house designed by famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright and Norris Park and its band shell.

A blue "Heritage Square" marker has been removed from the apartment house front lawn, as it had been with a recent sale of the Morrison house across the street north of Norris Park.

Commissioners decided Monday to seek informal estimates of the cost of demolishing the apartment house and garage. If estimates indicate that the demolition will cost more than $20,000, commissioners will be required by law to seek bids for the project. If estimates are less than $20,000, bidders' estimates become their bids to complete the work, McNutt said.

Anyone interested in demolishing the structures must contact county clerk Paulette Gerver, (308) 345-1552, as soon as possible, to arrange for a tour of the property.


In other action during Monday's meeting:

* Commissioners authorized the county attorney's office to start the execution of proceedings against Pawnee Aviation and advertise a sheriff's sale of the property seized by the county in the settlement of a lawsuit against Pawnee, which defaulted on a $300,000 loan from the county's revolving loan program.

During a closed session called to discuss potential litigation, McCook attorney Bryant Brooks spoke to commissioners about his client Thomas Leach's claim that Pawnee Aviation owner Ron Willocks listed as his own collateral equipment owned by Leach and loaned to Pawnee.

* Commissioners discussed the financial advantages/disadvantages of purchasing new motor graders before Jan. 1, 2011, at which time all new equipment must meet stricter federal emissions standards, upgrades that will increase the cost of equipment by 10 to 15 percent.

McNutt wondered whether it would be advantageous for the county to "beat price increases" and borrow money to purchase grader(s) before the end of the year. Fellow commissioner Steve Downer said buying before the price increases could save the county up to $25,000, depending upon the grader purchased and the trade-in allowed.

Commissioners will talk to grader salesmen at their June 14 meeting, at 10:30 a.m.

* Commissioners approved continuing the contract with Richard Murphy of REM Consulting, McCook, to manage the county's safety program. Murphy will provide safety training, programs and site surveys, update the county's safety and health manuals, attend quarterly safety committee meetings and be available for consultation.

* Commissioners reappointed Raymond Haag of rural Bartley to another five-year term on the Red Willow County Veterans Service Committee.

* Sitting as a board of equalization, commissioners approved a list of omitted, undervalued and overvalued properties, changes that included buildings removed or new buildings added, square footage adjusted and classification of ag land changed.

Property owners have until Wednesday, June 30, 2010, to protest their tax valuation. County assessor Sandra Kotschwar suggests calling her office, (308) 345-4388, or coming into her office to look at current assessment records and records of recent property sales and discuss valuation changes before filing protests.

County Treasurer Marleen Garcia reminded property owners that taxes must be paid on a property before it is demolished.

Kotschwar reported to commissioners that her office completed by the May 28, 2010, deadline the review of assessment rolls required by state law, and that all owners of real estate which changed in value were notified by first-class mail.


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At a minimum, $70,000 for a parking lot. Good taxpayers money WELL SPENT! The County still has one beautiful apartment building (not owned by County) in between their to be parking lot and another house they sunk our tax money into that sits empty. What a joke of Commissioner's decisions. And then they talk about saving money by financing now on a grader? Why didn't they think about the purchase of these 2 homes BEFORE they just spent the money and then tried to figure out something later? Time for someone new who knows how to spend our money money more wisely.

-- Posted by Rural Citizen on Tue, Jun 8, 2010, at 1:08 PM

Even if the house is not currently on the Historic Register, it should be. Mr. McNutt is wrong if he thinks there is no interest in saving the house just because nobody submitted a bid to take it down. Put the historic marker back up. Save the house and Heritage Square. Put up a marker in Gov. Heineman's old yard in McCook and one in the Frank Lloyd Wright's former yard and expand on the Heritage Square idea. McCook can not talk about developing community heritage when truely historic sites are made into parking lots or county jails. What is the stance of the McCook Historical Society on this?

-- Posted by dennis on Tue, Jun 8, 2010, at 1:52 PM

Dennis, what about developing community heritage by saving West Ward? It may not be on a historic register, but what about preservation of monumental buildings that educated our leaders of today? Maybe the City should buy the 524 Norris Ave home and upkeep it for the Historic Register. That way the City can have another "historical building" to show off and the County can have their "golden" parking lot.

-- Posted by Rural Citizen on Tue, Jun 8, 2010, at 3:31 PM

Spend more taxpayer money on the same house?! Good luck with that.

They offered the house to anyone who would want to move it but there were no takers. If there was an interest then those people who were interested in saving it, would have showed up and at least said something.

They've been talking about doing this for quite awhile so it's not like this came out of the blue. The Wright house should have a marker, it's one of only 2 homes on Norris which are on the Historical Registry. While they're at it they can put some up at the Keystone, Carnegie, old YMCA and the Courthouse since they are actually on the registry too.

-- Posted by McCook1 on Tue, Jun 8, 2010, at 5:26 PM

Rural, I would be Ok with saving West Ward with the exception that the school, the county,two private investors and the city all looked at it and their experts all said the building would cost way more to save instead of replace. Additionally the community already has a structure of the same vintage--East Ward School---that has been "saved", although it sits empty because it also has been proven that it was not cost effective to "save". The Brooks home was/is used for housing up until just a few months ago, so unlike West Ward it is usable. I am fairly sure most taxpayers would not favor "saving" a property that is extra costly to them.

-- Posted by dennis on Tue, Jun 8, 2010, at 10:06 PM


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