Citizens Speak for the Kirkbride

The Regional Treatment Center (RTC) in Fergus Falls, Minnesota, will face phase one demolition within the coming weeks due to a vote by the town’s city council to accept a $1.4 million bid.

The Fergus Falls Regional Treatment Center — otherwise known as the Kirkbride — was built from 1888-1906, making it one of the last Kirkbride structures built in the U.S. The building was one of Minnesota’s main buildings to house the mentally ill.

By the late 1920s, the Fergus Falls Kirkbride became the largest mental health hospital in the U.S. with over 1,700 patients. The hospital closed in 2005, and various proposals have tried to repurpose the building, but no attempts have been successful.

Chris Schuelke, executive director for the Otter Tail Historical Society, spoke on this issue along with one of the “Friends of the Kirkbride,” Carl Zachman, at the open forum for the Fergus Falls city council meeting Tuesday, Feb. 20.

“The argument that I hear for talking about demolition and deconstruction now is ‘we tried.’ Well, that is a pathetic argument,” Zachman said. “You either do or you don’t. I tried, doesn’t work.”

At the council meeting, Zachman voiced his concerns about how much of the building would be salvaged if the plans were enacted.

“Why is so little of it projected to be saved? Why is it kind of all or nothing?” Zachman asked. “Asking questions later is not really an option. The city of Fergus Falls and its residents deserve to know what is going to happen in every step of the process and afterward.”

Zachman also addressed how the city does not allow tours of the RTC. Zachman claims there is potential revenue that the city could pull in from giving tours.

“I know that liability is brought up as an argument, but there is liability in everything the city owns. All of its buildings, from drownings at the city park or pool to the city’s abandoned sewage treatment plant that has been abandoned for over 20 years that nobody even monitors,” Zachman said.

When the city still allowed tours, one of the volunteer tour guides was Maxine Schimidt. Schmidt has been campaigning to salvage the building since 2005.

“Why would you tear it down? Just look at it,” Maxine said.

Not everyone in Fergus Falls wants to salvage the RTC, however. Don Roggenkamp wrote a letter to the editor for the Daily Journal in Fergus Falls, saying that he is tired of the talk of salvage.

“Most of us in Fergus Falls do not want to raise taxes to fix a rotten building to have coffee shops, crafty shops or whatever,” Roggenkamp said.

Zachman told the city to make Fergus Falls a place where people want to live, work and visit.

“Please don’t let your short-sightedness make Fergus Falls a place where people wish they lived elsewhere,” Zachman said.

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