A structure that has had many lives may be on its last as the city considers options for the derelict Municipal Building atop Boot Hill.
Recent rain and snow tore a wound through the roof of the north side staircase, creating mounds of damp plaster and exposing the rusting lath underneath. Contractors have estimated it would cost about $7,800 to fix the hole, and the Kansas Heritage Trust Fund could pick up 80 percent of that. But then what?
“At this point, I'm hesitant to put another dollar into it,” Assistant City Manager Cherise Tieben said to the commissioners, seeking direction from the elected officials.
“Obviously it's a historic landmark,” Tieben said, trailing off.
Then and now atop Boot Hill
Since 1930 the Municipal Building and the concrete cowboy out front have looked over downtown Dodge City, across Trail Street and out into the plains. In the 83 years since, it's been a city hall, police and fire station, a jail, an emergency rescue training course, a chamber of commerce and the office of a charity organization.
Now it's home to pigeons that leave piles of gray and white feathers below disintegrating drop ceiling tiles; a rescue mannequin perched rigor mortis on a basement toilet; old signs and holiday decorations; antique claw foot bathtubs and intricate stamped metal radiators; and a pretend person formed from a fire hose.
“Try not to breathe too much,” said Melissa McCoy of the city's visitor's bureau, stepping past a section of ceiling tiles that collapsed within the last month. By all estimations the concrete and brick Spanish Colonial Revival style building is structurally sound; it's the rest of it that's a mess.
Though most of the rooms are empty save for junk, the fixtures and walls provide a loose documentation the last century in American civic interior design. In the main foyer hangs a wrought iron and blown glass chandelier that matches the staircase and balcony railings. Wood paneling covers the plaster walls in the office next to the garage. Bulbous hanging lamps suggest a fling with the 1960s and a security safe door with a combination lock hides on the top floor.
In May, the Municipal Building was recognized as a state and national historic place after being nominated for its “local significance in the areas of government, social history, and architecture,” according to the state's historical places listing.
Looking for options
Since the building was vacated in 2001, the city has tried to give it away several times, though investors' initial enthusiasm soon turned upon entering the property. Local contractor Ric Marboeuf told the city it would be difficult for a private entity to justify the renovation costs even if the building was given to it.
Page 2 of 2 - And while, as McCoy points out, the building does not have to meet modern Americans with Disabilities Act regulations, the current floor plan would be wanting compared to a less constricted building.
McCoy pointed to the Heritage Trust Fund, which could provide up to $90,000 on a $112,500 project and had already encouraged the city to seek a grant. The city could also get assistance from the Kansas State University architecture program, which has provided free consultation to rehabilitate dilapidated buildings in the past.
Another option, McCoy said, would be to fix the short term problem, the major roof leak, and “mothball” the building until a more attractive option appears.
Commissioner Rick Sowers said the estimated $7,800 could likely be a best estimate for the repair and could change drastically once a construction crew opens up the walls.
"We can't candy coat what the building is. It will be multiple problems," McCoy said.
"I can appreciate historical buildings,” Commissioner Jim Lembright said, “but if we can't give it away, I'm wondering why we're keeping it. ... You hate to destroy buildings like that but it continues to cost us, and what do we do with it?"
"There's few options and we wish we could do something with it, but it's not practical for us in any way," he continued.
By the end of the commission work session, city staffers were told to determine demolition costs while also pursuing the grant money.
"I want to have this conversation so 30 years from today someone doesn't look back and wonder why we took out that building," Sowers said. "I want to make sure we're traveling down every avenue before we pull the trigger on this."