Slowly but surely, the tide may be starting to turn for the dilapidated Upper Post of historic Fort Snelling.
On Tuesday, the Hennepin County board accepted $500,000 in state grant money to provide emergency stabilization for two buildings on the Upper Post. Then the board approved seeking $6.75 million in federal stimulus money to restore the Post Headquarters building and the officers' quarters building.
While there is no guarantee that the stimulus money will be awarded, Commissioner Peter McLaughlin said that experts who monitor the condition of the Upper Post believe that continuing work on the buildings means "we've turned the corner and we're actually getting ahead of deterioration."
The Upper Post, which was built mostly between 1870 and 1910, was named one of the nation's most endangered historic sites in 2006. It's been mostly abandoned since World War II. The roof on one building fell in and the structure had to be torn down. Time has taken a toll on bricks and mortar, and water damage is a problem.
The state grant will be used to make structural repairs to the jail building and masonry repairs to the jail and the Post Headquarters building, which has a clock tower and is at the heart of the Upper Post. The repair is being done by county Sentencing to Service labor crews made up of people who are serving time for crimes and are finishing their sentences by learning new work skills.
McLaughlin, who leads a committee that has been meeting on the future of the Upper Post, said some of the workers have been learning the specialized skills involved in working on historic buildings. Having offenders do the job means repair is costing a fraction of what it normally would, officials said.
The stimulus funding would be used to convert the fort headquarters building and officers' quarters into office space, while retaining some of the historic character of the buildings. The renovations are meant to demonstrate how the 27 historic buildings on the 142-acre Upper Post could be updated and developed for present-day use.
The Upper Post is actually owned by the state Department of Natural Resources, which was given the land in 1971 for recreation programs. Larry Peterson, DNR development and real estate manager, told the board the department is trying to get the deed changed to allow other uses.
In other action, the board gave initial approval to a plan to cut anticipated capital expenses between now and 2013 from $950 million to $750 million. County administrators are worried that if too much construction debt builds up, it could jeopardize funding for other needs. They want debt service capped at 15 percent of the total annual property tax in the county.
Board members approved passage of the plan for consideration by the full board next week. But some indicated that they may want to discuss which projects should be delayed. Among the projects slated for indefinite delay are a $5-million addition to NorthPoint Family & Service Center in north Minneapolis and a new 911 communications building to replace an outdated emergency services building. Board Chairman Mike Opat indicated the status of both projects could be discussed again next week.
Planned projects involving the Nokomis, Northeast, Excelsior, Webber Park and Walker libraries remain on track.
Mary Jane Smetanka • 612-673-7380