Post Office roof repairs may come this summer

Time to get caught up on my to-do list.

Hole in Post Office roofA couple of weeks ago, local architect Steve Wilmot pointed out a hole in the roof of the Northfield Post Office. Postal officials at the time said a work order had been submitted, but no date had been set for repairs.

One reader commented on the post to suggest raising the money locally to make the repairs to the historic building, then letting the United States Postal Service pay the money back when the repairs were authorized.

I decided it would be a good idea to follow up on the issue and contacted postal officials again.

That led me to some interesting discussion with the folks in Kansas City and the big twin to the north. I'm not taking their side in the issue, but they did offer some food for thought.

Richard Watkins, a spokesman from the Kansas City regional office, looked at the roof damage in the picture on Northfield.org as we spoke by phone. He said he was impressed by the offer of help, but added that it wasn't necessary.

The Kansas City office authorizes all repairs for the midwest, then delegates jobs in our area to Minneapolis to handle the contracts. Watkins said issues that affect the safety of workers and customers come before issues of building damage. "It may offend some people, but that's the reality," he said. The reason is simple: money.

"We're not tax supported," Watkins said. "It's not like we can send a bill to the government to do the work." He explained that the postal service has 37,000 post offices nationwide. And people get attached to their local facilities, so closing, consolidating, replacing or moving sites can be very difficult, even when the moves make business sense.

Crises like Hurricane Katrina can wreak havoc on the system. Watkins said that the storm dumped 14 million gallons of water in the main post office in New Orleans—the equivalent of filling the Minneapolis main post office to the roof. Other buildings and equipment were damaged, workers moved away, and mail recipients often fled without any forwarding information.

But the hurricane is just part of the problem. The postal service has seen stiff competition from faxes and now the Internet, cutting into the need for paper mail. It also has seen competitors like FedEx peel off a chunk of the lucrative business package delivery.

Pete Nowacki, a communications program specialist from southern Minnesota currently assigned to Minneapolis, knows Northfield well. And he knows the suburban sprawl that has hit here as it has across the country.

"We add the equivalent of the city of Chicago each year," Nowacki said of the national impact. "that's two million stops a year, with carriers operating six days a week."

The good news is that the Northfield post office is considered an important building in the system and isn't being neglected as part of some sinister plan to shut it down.

The better news is that Postmaster Margie Jacobson said last week that contractors had been in looking over the site to bid on some painting work that was part of her request so she hoped things would be moving along this summer. But she was careful not to give any guarantees.

"I'm sure it will all get fixed," she said. "I know everything doesn't go as quickly as everybody would wish, or as I would wish."

So, if you see the repair crews working on the roof, or the interior painting, let me know. Better yet, send in a photo and let everyone in on the happy ending to this tale.


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Ropes, weights and a tarp

As much as I hate to be the one suggesting the Government participate in yet another cover-up, it seems to me that a quick patch using ropes, weights and a tarp could be effected without putting anyone on the roof. At least downpours would be diverted (though a good wind-driven soaker would still get in). On the other hand, it is just a building.