Federal grant to pay for removing asbestos

Wahkonsa Annex project continues to go forward

-Messenger photo by Peter Kaspari
The Wahkonsa Annex at the corner of First Avenue South and 10th Street is shown Wednesday afternoon. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has given the city of Fort Dodge a $500,000 grant to pay for removing asbestos from the building.

A $500,000 federal grant for asbestos removal will provide the needed money for the first hands-on work to eventually renovate the Warden Plaza, build an intermodal hub and create a new cultural and recreation center in downtown Fort Dodge.

The grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will pay for removing asbestos from the Wahkonsa Annex in preparation for its future demolition. The work could begin as early as this fall.

The grant award was announced Wednesday.

”I definitely think it helps reiterate that the city is committed to this project,” Mayor Matt Bemrich said Wednesday.

”This is getting our federal tax dollars that we send to Washington back and putting them to use on a project that we believe will create an impact for decades and decades to come,” he added.

He described the grant as a ”very important piece of the puzzle.”

Bemrich said city officials made their case for the grant during a visit to Washington, D.C., last spring.

The city government will provide $100,000 in matching funds for the grant. That money will come from an economic development fund.

The Wahkonsa Annex is a seven-story building at the corner of First Avenue South and 10th Street. It is a light-colored brick building that appears to be part of the next-door Warden Plaza at 908 First Ave. S.

It will be demolished to make way for a parking ramp called an intermodal hub that will connect the Warden Plaza to the planned cultural and recreation center.

The Warden Plaza and the Wahkonsa Annex, which are both vacant, were lumped together as one building when downtown Fort Dodge was designated as a historic district. Getting state and federal historic preservation officials to recognize that they are two separate buildings was a seven-month long process that delayed the renovation of the Warden Plaza and the rest of the projects.

The city government went to court in 2016 to acquire the Warden Plaza and the Wahkonsa Annex under the state’s abandoned buildings law.

In December 2016, ownership of the Warden Plaza was transferred to KDG LLC, of Columbia, Missouri. That firm plans to renovate the building to create retail space on the first two floors and about 100 apartments on the upper floors. The project is estimated to cost $35 million.

The city kept the Wahkonsa Annex.

Before it can be demolished, the city is required to remove the asbestos. That’s a substance that was commonly used to insulate and fireproof buildings. Lots of buildings constructed before the 1980s contain asbestos. But medical researchers have linked lung cancer and other lung diseases to asbestos, and it is now considered a health hazard.

There is a lot of asbestos in the Wahkonsa Annex, according to Vickie Reeck, the city’s community and economic development manager. She said it is in the floor tiles, pipe insulation, electrical wire insulation and even in the drywall compound.

It will take 30 to 60 days to complete all the grant-related documents, Reeck said. Once that is done, the City Council can hire a company to remove the asbestos. Reeck said the work could begin this fall or in the spring of 2020.


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