That was the consensus of the city council last Thursday as it took up the matter of what to do about the former conservation club building at 503 N. 9th St. that is falling into disrepair. The city council also decided it will not rent out the building this year as it had in the past, explaining that it is just too run down.
For some years the city has not been renting it out in the winter months anyway, citing the high cost of heating the poorly insulated structure that Princeton resident Jim Burroughs estimates was built in about 1946.
Burroughs, a senior citizen retired from the insurance business, ought to know. He was a member of the group that built the structure to be the home of what was originally named the Princeton Gun Club. It was named that because the members would trap shoot at the fairgrounds, Burroughs said this week. Later the club was to include more anglers in its membership and the name was changed to Princeton Rod and Gun Club. Eventually it was renamed again, this time to be the TriCounty Conservation Club.
Burroughs recalled how when the club members met, they would first have their business meeting, then would watch Remington and Winchester 16 mm outdoor films before having refreshments.
It also turns out that Princeton City Council member Paul Whitcomb is a nephew of Joe Whitcomb who built the field-stone fireplace in the civic center.
Burroughs noted how eventually the membership in the conservation club dropped and that the taxes on the building went up enough that the club decided it would be better off having someone else take it over.
The club decided sometime in the 1990s to lease it to the city for 99 years with the agreement that the city would keep the structure in good repair, Burroughs recalled. He noted that if the club was ever revived, the lease would allow the members to meet a couple times per month. But those days are gone, with everyone being so busy with other things in their lives, he added.
For many years the building was the site of the local senior citizen dining center where seniors would eat federally-subsidized nutritional dinners five days per week. Sometimes entertainment was included with the meal, such as a kitchen band from the Mille Lacs Lake area, or other singing groups. The city council has met at the building at least once and for years the structure was the site for the Civic Betterment Club’s Santaville.
The city came close to renovating the building about three years ago but then had to use the money to supplement the general fund because of the state reducing its aid to the city. With the city’s continued financial struggles, it still hasn’t been able to replenish that money, City Administrator Mark Karnowski said at the council meeting.
Council member Thom Walker also commented that the city doesn’t have the money.
Karnowski added that he would still like to see the building renovated because of its uniqueness.
Input from audience
Resident Steve Milam, who lives across from the civic center, told the council he has watched a “lot of illegal activity” at the closed civic center including drug type, though not as much of that as there used to be. Sometimes persons have gotten on top of the building, Milam said, adding, “Something needs to be done. That’s my main concern.”
Neighborhood resident Mary Anderson said she sees the historical value in the building and recalled how she once had a family reunion there. “There is no other place like it in Princeton,” added Mary’s husband Dave Anderson.
Council member Victoria Hallin noted how Hallin’s family had three graduation parties at the civic center, calling it “magnificent,” and how the basketball net there was useful.
One of the uses that had been discussed for the building if it is renovated, Karnowski said, are seminars.
“As long as it is fairly sound,” Walker said.
City public works director Bob Gerold responded that the core of the building is “fairly viable,” but he wasn’t sure how sound the sunroom addition was.
City development director/zoning administrator Carie Fuhrman noted that the building inspector had declared the building needs insulation.
Also a new roof, Karnowski said.
Whitcomb commented that he detected some “community spirit” as residents at the meeting said they wanted to see the building fixed up. Fuhrman supplied a spreadsheet for the council showing different federal, state and private funding groups to look into to see if they could assist. She cited one in particular, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), that Princeton is receiving a grant and loan from to expand its wastewater treatment plant. In this case, the USDA might have a grant of up to $30,000 for the civic center renovation, she indicated.