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Monett Park Casino slated for demolition

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Monett City Park Casino, a landmark for social events since 1926, will be coming down.

Mayor Jim Orr made the announcement during a work session on the Casino's on Tuesday.

Orr said plans to renovate the approximately 5,000 square foot facility hit a snag when two structural engineers examined the roof. Builder M.E. Gillioz used bridge trusses under the roof, which have now weakened, causing the ceiling to sag.

"The engineer says it needs to come down," Orr said.

Plans call for closing the facility on Aug. 1, 2012. The Casino could be used until then, unless there is a significant snowfall. The engineers said the roof could not support the weight of snow and the building would be closed.

An average of 275 events a year are booked at the Casino, City Administrator Dennis Pyle said. Those that already have reservations past the closing date have been notified the building will not be available.

All three city council members and Pyle were on hand to ask an invited group of community leaders what to do next. Orr said the council's initial inclination is to take the building down to its foundation and put up a newer structure in the same footprint.

"We're not locked into anything," Orr said. "[Commissioner] Jerry [Dierker] is still concerned about the floor and the sub-floor."

Orr said council members wanted to do the work without taking on additional debt. The project could be stretched over two fiscal years with a new building opening in September 2013. A budget of $400,000 had already been committed for work this fiscal year. The project could possibly expand to $750,000 of work with available resources, Pyle said.

Undertaking a minor renovation led to taking another look at the arrangement of the Casino. Architect Richard Werner said the current main hall would hold 209 people around tables and chairs. Expanding into the hallway could make room for up to 260 people. With seating alone, the main room can hold 448. Using the hall would add another 90 seats.

Taking down the Casino comes at the same time the Monett Area YMCA has started construction on its new facility at the southwest corner of the park. Orr said the Y would have a meeting room large enough for 300 people.

However, it was noted the YMCA room would only be available when Y activities were not underway and would be subject to restricted use, unlike a public building like the Casino.

When the subject of renovations came up earlier this year, Orr acknowledged it became a hot topic. Council members were inclined to try to keep as much of the old look as they could, even adding the west porch to the main entrance to provide a look of continuity.

At Tuesday night's work session, audience members were less inclined to limit rebuilding to the existing space. Demolition would not leave anything left worth preserving, one person commented.

"I think the psychology is the Casino is a sense of place, more than an image of the Casino," said architect Richard Werner, who designed the proposed renovation. "People can remember an event they were at more than the look of the building. The challenge with a budget is to create a sense of place."

"You need to make something that will be good for another 75 years. Don't limit yourself," said Rod Anderson.

Several people suggested rebuilding with a bigger hall, one that might be able to host activities that have moved out of town due to the Casino's limited size.

Opinions were mixed on Werner's proposal to downsize the kitchen into a warming area only.

Mike Brownsberger, city commissioner, questioned the value of having both large and small meeting areas in the building. Several responded that both have a function, especially in holding multiple gatherings at the same time.

"A new building can never look like it was," said Rex Kay. "It's not going to be the same old place. This is the high spot of this park. If you're going to change it, consider some different architecture, something that sets on the top of the hill."

Pyle suggested if the city had to rebuild, a new meeting place could be erected downtown, leaving the present Casino site as a green space. The audience responded vigorously that such an idea would not sit well with the public.

Mark Costley suggested taking a survey of industrial leaders of what kinds of needs they have that could be addressed by a different meeting hall. Suzy McElmurry said sports groups using the park may also have ideas on what kind of meeting hall could meet their needs.

"Right now might be the right time to go into debt, with interest rates at historic lows," said Mark Nelson.

Pyle said the conversation had taken a different turn than council members expected. Orr said council members may assemble a totally different group for more input.

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