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Discussion begins concerning Bungo Township Hall

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Bungo Township Hall is a building that holds a nostalgic place in the hearts of some Bungo residents, but discussion is under way for the building’s future.

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The Pine Forest School House, as it was once called, was built in 1908, approximately two miles from where it is today. Its age is beginning to show with cracks in its foundation, windows that fall out during strong winds and a roof that needs work.

In the years to come, Bungo residents must decide what to do with the old building. Do they renovate or replace?

Doug Wiess is a Bungo resident and a former student of the Pine Forest School.

“There is now this trend that all the townships seem to be tearing down their buildings and building new buildings, and it just seems to be ‘the thing to do.’ But I’m not sure that that needs to be the thing that Bungo does just because it’s the kind of knee-jerk reaction for other townships,” Wiess said. “That doesn’t need to be the thing we do in Bungo. We can be different because we have a unique building that has some history to it.”

Wiess worked construction many years ago, and has since built his own home and outbuildings. When the town hall's window sills began to rot because of leaks in one wall, Wiess repaired them. He then created an estimate for what it would cost to restore the building's exterior. He presented it to the township during the annual township meeting last March. That got discussion started.

When it became obvious that one wall of the building was in worse condition than the others, Wiess prepared a cost estimate to repair just that wall. The estimate to repair the entire building came in at approximately $6,500. The estimate to repair the building's east wall came in at a price of between $2,638 and $3,103, depending on whether the restoration includes foundation reinforcement.

Wiess got a group of would-be volunteers together to do the work, including a retired construction worker and a Habitat for Humanity member who is familiar with renovation with the help of volunteer workers.

“We have volunteer labor,” Wiess said. “I’ve really talked to quite a large number of people that are interested in preserving it and people that want to get their pocketbooks out and contribute. They may not be able to get out their hammers, but they would contribute money to it without starting a fund. They would be willing to pay some money to keep it.”

Three-year board member Timothy Schnoor questions the accuracy of Wiess’ estimates. Schnoor said he has been in construction for years. He said the estimates do not include the cost of nails. Schnoor also offers a different cost estimate for restoration.

“I’m guessing overall you’d probably end up spending at least $35,000 on it. Maybe closer to $40,000 because that roof’s going to cost quite a little bit,” Schnoor said.

Schnoor also said the use of volunteer labor could be a liability to the township in case of injury.

Schnoor’s primary concern with the building is the foundation, which he said has close to 30 cracks in it.

“The windows and siding are really bad. Windows and siding, that’s acceptable. That’s something you can fix. But when you have a foundation underneath the building that’s trashed, that’s the big problem right there,” Schnoor said.

“It’s up and down. We did raise money to repair the outside before, but it all fell through. Other people didn’t want to use it. They used that money for other purposes,” said board member Larry Peterson. “Now we’re in a situation where we really don’t have the funds right now.”

Wiess said the Bungo Township Board approved up to $4,000 on restoration of the building's east wall at the March annual meeting. The board decided in May not to do an extensive remodel on the east wall.

Peterson is in support of restoration.

“I’d try anything to try to get this building fixed,” Peterson said. “If we could get new siding on it and repair the windows and put a few shingles on the roof and address these issues, it might last another 40-50 years.”

Peterson and Wiess both say they would expect a new building to cost more than restoring the old building. Peterson estimates a new building could cost $100,000. Again, Schnoor disagrees on price and estimates a cost of $25,000-$30,000.

Peterson and Wiess each attended Pine Forest School.

“As long as I remember, it was the town hall. I remember taking my gopher feet over there when I was a kid and getting paid for them,” Wiess said.

Schnoor said people are letting their nostalgic memories cloud their judgment. For Wiess, the current “throwaway society” is the true problem.

Both sides of the debate recognize there is not money currently available for restoration or replacement of the building. Schnoor would like to see the township continue to use the current building as it is while budgeting for replacement over a span of years.

Peterson and Wiess would like to see the township seek donations and grants to cover the cost of renovation. Wiess said a decision must be made soon or there may be irreparable damage to the building.

Of those contacted, no local contractor was willing to provide an independent price estimate for the restoration or replacement of the building.

Travis Grimler can be reached at travis.grimler@pineandlakes.com. Follow him on Facebook.

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