BY DAVID FISHER
DRESDEN (December 27) — A top item for discussion during Monday night’s called City Board meeting involved the possibility of constructing a Dresden Municipal Complex in the downtown area, which was essentially wiped clean by the high winds of the EF3 tornado that destroyed the Dresden Fire Station, Dresden City Hall and Dresden Police Department, along with several other public and private buildings on December 10.
Dresden Municipal Complex
Mayor Washburn stated he envisions Dresden City Hall and Dresden Police Department offices, and the Dresden Fire Department, being rebuilt under one roof as part of a Dresden Municipal Complex. He said the Complex could have a Fire Department with offices and drive-through doors facing South Poplar; a bigger meeting/conference room; a training room that could be used by all departments and the public; a kitchenette; a bedroom space for future use; shared office space that could be rented (for attorneys to take depositions or people to meet), which is a new concept incorporated into the design of buildings in other areas.
It was mentioned the architectural firm of H2H could be tasked with developing a concept for a Municipal Complex to present to the board.
The mayor stated it would be cheaper to house all city departments under a single roof than to construct separate buildings.
“If we don’t do that, we’re probably going to end up with four or five empty concrete pads on South Wilson Street, for many years to come, which would be an embarrassment for our city,” Mayor Washburn said.
As proposed by Mayor Washburn, the Municipal Complex could be built on the site of properties damaged beyond repair by the tornado. The Complex could be constructed along the east side of Poplar Street, beginning at the corner of Nelson and Poplar streets, and continuing north on Poplar to the intersection of Main Street, before turning east on Main. This Municipal Complex would encompass the current Fire Station property; Poppi’s Pizza and adjoining storage buildings (to be donated to the city by Mayor Washburn); Supervisory Services on the corner of Main and Poplar, owned by Dickie Hutcherson; and continuing east on Main Street – the former law office owned by Keely Wilson; the two office buildings formerly utilized by the Attorney General’s Office (27th Judicial District); and the property on which Dresden City Hall and Dresden Police Department were located.
The mayor suggested using earth-moving equipment to bring the hill on which these structures once stood down to street level. The mayor noted the city owns part of the land needed for the construction project and most business and property owners have informed him they are not rebuilding on their downtown lots. Additionally, they have agreed to sell their properties to the city at a very low price.
Mayor Washburn stated he has not yet had the opportunity to speak with Andy Mangum to find out if he is going to rebuild his Standard Auto building, which was destroyed during the storm.
Stephanie Kemp, who owns The Flower Box, expressed interest in remaining on the block. Kemp stated she would like to purchase the building between The Flower Box and the former Dresden City Hall to expand her business.
The building that housed the former Old Majestic Steakhouse (originally The New Century Hotel, built in 1910), located on the corner of West Main and South Wilson Street, will be demolished and another building constructed on the site, according to the owner, Tony Winstead.
“We’re going to lose population over this deal,” Mayor Washburn said.
The mayor stated the city needs to begin reaching out to investors to build apartments and town houses to replace those lost in the storm.
City Recorder Jennifer Branscum noted there was already a housing shortage before the tornado hit. She asked, “When rental properties, apartments or houses are rebuilt, how do we get them to come back.”
Alderman Gwin Anderson noted any new structures will have to be built according to the new building codes. He also mentioned the cost of building new rental properties will necessitate increasing rent.
Alderwoman Sandra Klutts suggested holding a town hall meeting to discuss the concerns of the owners of the 21 businesses that experienced storm damage and offer some kind of encouragement to them. “We need to show them as a city board and mayor that we’re concerned about them staying in Dresden,” Alderwoman Klutts said.
Rather than be discouraged by the destruction caused by the storm, Mayor Washburn took a positive stance, saying that Dresden has the opportunity to build the city back better than it was before. Alderman Gwin Anderson agreed and indicated he supports moving the city forward.
Cleanup Efforts and Building Demolition
The mayor gave an update on the status of cleanup efforts, saying it usually takes three sweeps to remove building debris, and his goal is for Dresden to complete its first pass this week. “The debris is typically less and less with each pass,” Mayor Washburn said.
He notes as the debris is moved out to the curb, volunteer crews pick it up and haul it to one of two dump sites – one at the city’s sand pit off of Highway 22 behind the FedEx building, and the other adjacent to the water tower off of Hillcrest Street. Because these dumpsites are rapidly filling up, the mayor stated plans call for moving debris to the landfill. “TDEC tells us we can’t burn that material. However, all vegetative material (trees and limbs) can be burned in place (at county shop and the sandpit),” Mayor Washburn said.
He stated 30 applications have been turned in to have houses demolished, and it may require contracting with a firm to demolish these structures and haul away the debris. He said the cost for debris removal is reimbursable through FEMA.
“The president has already approved public assistance for government agencies, but has not yet approved aid for electric or gas companies,” he said.
“There is a second declaration that will come based on the amount of damage we have. The minimum amount was $11.5 million. FEMA completed their assessment last Thursday and have determined there are 187 residences with minor to complete construction, and 21 businesses with minor to complete destruction. They’re going to put a dollar figure to that and then submit it to the governor, who will, in turn, submit it to FEMA in Washington, which will make sure it meets all of their criteria, before submitting it to the president.
“This is the IA (individual assistance) portion of the declaration for utilities, individual families, relocation and other things,” Mayor Washburn said. “The individual declaration is expected to be presented to the president within the next two weeks for his signature. “We’re hoping we meet the $11.5 million threshold, but there is a little wiggle-room on that, such if being such a small city puts an undue burden on it. If the IA declaration is approved, we’re going to be seeing a lot more federal resources in this area.”
“Up to this point, all of our resources in the cleanup and recovery stage have been by volunteers. All of these track-hoes you’ve been seeing around town are driven by volunteers. We’ve been supplying them with fuel and we’ve been feeding them at the Elks Lodge. It’s been out of the goodness of their heart, and the fact that they care about us and want to help us, that all of this assistance has been provided. Later on, there will be money to help with that, particularly with the hauling of debris to the landfill.”
The mayor stated the city is now in the process of determining what buildings will have to be destroyed.
Before demolition can begin, property owners must:
- Have all of their insurance paperwork completed, including an affirmation of a settlement on the document, and a statement that the insurance company takes no exception to the demolition.
- All gas, electricity and water must be turned off.
- The city must know the name of the insurance company, if the owner has one, because insurance provides money for cleanup. These funds can help pay for demolition of these houses.
Additionally, Mayor Washburn strongly urged the board to hire local people to do the cleanup, if at all possible. He stated they have already been helping out the city on a volunteer basis, and it would only be fair to help them out a little bit by hiring locally. “This will keep our money local.”
“We will be reimbursed federally, based on the tonnage of debris we haul away,” Mayor Washburn said.
Storm-Damaged Police Vehicles Replaced
Several city-owned vehicles were heavily damaged or destroyed by the tornado that wreaked havoc in downtown Dresden. According to the City of Dresden’s auto insurance carrier, five of the nine vehicles inspected, thus far, have been declared total losses, one is deemed repairable and three require additional information to determine their disposition. Of the five cars declared to be total losses, four are police vehicles. This reduces the number of Dresden Police Department’s useable patrol cars.
Washburn pointed out the money received from the insurance claim, $102,150, would be more than enough to purchase three new patrol vehicles costing $100,745 (based on the state bid). On the recommendation of Police Chief Chris Crocker, the Dresden City Board voted unanimously to approve the purchase of three Durangos for the police department.
The Board also approved using some of the McWherter funds, donated for the upkeep of the Harmon and Lucile McWherter Civic Center, to purchase linoleum flooring for a portion of the building, costing $5,000.