The Free Press, Mankato, MN

October 15, 2012

Municipal building's heating system to be replaced

By Mark Fischenich
The Free Press

NORTH MANKATO — It was a good news/bad news situation for North Mankato City Planner/interim City Administrator Mike Fischer.

The good news: Fischer will be warm in November and December because the City Council decided Monday night to replace the municipal building's ancient and utterly broken heating system.

The bad news: Fischer will be working up a sweat doing both jobs because the new furnace is being funded partly with the savings from not hiring a new city administrator as soon as planned -- with the city's next CEO most likely not starting until January.

The municipal building's 43-year-old heating and air conditioning system conked out in September.

"It's done," Fischer told the council earlier this month, saying the lack of spare parts and liability concerns left the city's heating contractor calling the furnace irreparable. "Schwickert's won't fix it anymore."

"Dress accordingly," Councilman Bill Schindle suggested.

Schindle was joking, and the council actually spent the next couple of weeks looking for funds and seeking a second quote on fixing the system.

Monday's meeting brought news that Schwickert's was still offering the best price, that it would cost about 10 percent more to split the project into two parts with just the heating problem solved immediately, and that Finance Director Clara Thorne had a plan for funding both the heating and cooling components.

The council's decision to not fill a vacant construction inspector position this year saved $70,000 from the 2012 budget, Thorne said. If the council also delayed hiring a replacement for retired City Administrator Wendell Sande until Jan. 1, there would be another $45,000 in available cash.

With the heating/air conditioning system expected to cost $105,000, there would be enough money in the budget to keep the council chambers and administrative offices warm when winter arrives, Thorne said. Plus, the city wouldn't have to pay the 10 percent additional cost of delaying the AC work until the 2013 budget.

After the meeting, Mayor Mark Dehen said it was increasingly unlikely that a new administrator would be in place before the start of the year anyway. A replacement for Sande, who retired at the end of May, was originally to be announced by Sept. 17.

That was delayed when a majority of council members decided the first group of three finalists didn't meet their expectations, and the council voted on Sept. 10 to reopen the search. Dehen's goal at that point was to make a hire by early November.

Turning Point's Bonnie Bennett, the city's consultant in the city administrator search, later suggested the city avoid setting a firm deadline for applicants and instead advertise that applications would be accepted for the position "until filled." Dehen said Bennett also suggested that additional applicants might be available following the Nov. 6 general election -- when city administrators could assess the make-up of a newly elected council in their current city.

Dehen still hopes the council can make a hiring decision before Thanksgiving or shortly after. But that person's first day on the job likely wouldn't come until the year is up because of the need to give adequate notice to his or her employer and the difficulty in selling a home and moving during the Christmas season.

"At best, hopefully, we can have someone in place by January," Dehen said.