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County gives house to EDC

Monday, April 11, 2011

McCOOK, Nebraska -- Red Willow County, Nebraska, commissioners Monday morning gave away the stucco-covered house north of the courthouse in McCook to allow it to be relocated and rehabbed, and eventually returned to the tax rolls.

Commissioner Steve Downer called the opportunity to generate some revenue with the now-unused house "a heck-of-a-deal." And the house will make a nice home for someone, Commission Chairman Earl McNutt said.

McNutt said he had made "an outside committal" that the county would certainly consider giving the house to the McCook Economic Development Corp., so that the MEDC could move it, rehabilitate it and sell it in its "Purchase, Rehab and Resell" housing development program.

Housing development director Mary Kircher said during the commissioners' weekly meeting today that she wants to make the house handicap accessible with 36-inch doors throughout. The house has an open floor plan that should allow it to be easily remodeled, Downer said.

The City of McCook gave its blessing to the project when city council members at their April 4 meeting donated a lot at 301 E. Second on which to dig a basement and place the house.

The county-owned house, at 516 Norris, is a brick structure covered with stucco, Kircher said, the weight of which will cost more to move than it would a wooden structure. It's estimated the move will cost $35,000, Kircher said.

If the house is moved straight east and onto Norris Avenue, the concrete retaining wall will have to be removed, she said, and if it is moved south and then east onto Norris, two trees will have to be removed. McNutt said that commissioners would leave that decision to the house movers, but they would have no objections either way. McNutt said commissioners will decide then whether to leave the vacant lot at its current level or level it with the county parking lot on the south.

The house will have to be inspected for asbestos, the study of which the county will pay. McNutt said the decision about who -- the county or the MEDC -- will pay for asbestos removal will be made later. The basement has finished ceilings, Kircher said, adding, "Who knows what we'll find."

The county would have to pay for an asbestos study no matter what it would decide to do with the house, McNutt said.

Kircher said the house mover can't start the project until July.

Downer made the motion to donate the house to the MEDC; it passed unanimously.

The county purchased the house -- formerly a private residence, a legal office and a hair salon -- for $79,500 in March 2008. To remodel the house into county offices would have required locating a handicap accessible restroom on the ground floor and building partitions for private offices.

"Realistically, we knew we would have to clear that lot for whatever purpose," McNutt said. Commissioners, a jail task force yet to be named and a jail consultant firm are now considering the possibility of building a county jail onto the north side of the courthouse and/or sheriff's office.

McNutt justified giving away the house to the MEDC by saying donating it is cheaper than paying someone to tear it down. It cost the county $24,000 to tear down the county-owned two-story apartment house on the corner of the same courthouse block in March. The county purchased that house, at 524 Norris, for $50,000 in December 2009.

McNutt added, "And in the future, it'll (the house at 516 Norris) be back on the tax rolls. It might take a year or two, but eventually it will generate some revenue again."

Downer said it's unfortunate that the courthouse is landlocked. "When they built this courthouse, they didn't have enough land to start with," he said.

Downer said he discovered recently, while researching some county roads, that in 1895, the city of McCook offered the county the south half of the block that is now Norris Park on which to place the courthouse, "but they took this quarter of a block instead."

In other action, commissioners postponed indefinitely a public hearing scheduled to discuss access onto land owned by the Nebraska Board of Educational Lands and Funds in Section 16, Township 2N, Range 29W, to allow the state board and Michael Sis, the owner of land in Section 17, time to explore access and settlement options.

Commissioners were pleased that the two parties are working together to solve their differences. McNutt said, "Whatever we would have decided wouldn't make everyone happy."

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