New appraisal sought for old Warsaw City Hall

Mayor Joe Thallemer looks at paperwork left behind in the police dispatch center in the old city hall building. Five years after vacating the building, Thallemer and city council are trying to determine what to do with it. (Dan Spalding / Times Union)

From a visual standpoint, the interior of the old city hall appears to have been untouched since city workers vacated the building nearly five years ago.

Inside, the building at the corner of High and Market streets is cold because the heat has been turned off, according to Mayor Joe Thallemer.

Electricity is still available and Thallemer was able to flip on the lights in most of the rooms as he walked around and  assessed its condition.

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Aside from the miscellaneous items left behind – including paperwork, filing cabinets, some desks and the shell of a dispatch center, the building sits empty.

“This doesn’t look any different than the day we left,” Thallemer said during the tour earlier this month.

The tour marked the first time Thallemer had visited the building in a while since his administration made the move to the revamped bank building across from the Kosciusko County Courthouse in May 2013.

The building’s condition has become a point of interest after members of the Lakeland Art Association expressed a desire to use the building and convert it into a fine arts museum.

While the building generally appears to be in decent shape, Thallemer admits that both the roof and furnace need repairs.

Signs of leaky roof are apparent in the old police squad room where the ceiling and floor have sustained some water damage.

Except for that, almost all of the walls, carpet and ceiling appear to be in good shape.

At one point, the mayor sees a stack of old city calendars from 2004 that includes a photo on the back of the late Bob Richmond, a former city councilman, pictured with the musical act The Four Freshman. He scoops up a handful to take with him, thinking they might make a nice momento for somebody.

Thallemer, a former city councilman,  admits he was never really fond of the old city hall, in part because of the lack of conference room space. The only room big enough to accommodate a large group was the old council chambers.

The building had served as a home for the mayor, clerk-treasurer, human resources, police and dispatching, among others. Prior to that, many years ago, the building was used as a fire house, Thallemer said.

The police department moved out several years ago to the former NIPSCO building on East Fort Wayne Street before city hall was vacated.

What’s apparent in walking through the empty building is just how cut up the building had become over the years as officials changed things up to accommodate the need for small offices on the main floor as well as the basement.

Thallemer said the city was slow to take action on the empty building as they waited to see how development of the Little Crow Lofts to the east of the old building would come together.

With that housing project now complete and interest in the building by the arts group, the city is now looking at its options and seeking a fresh appraisal of the property so that it can make it available for sale, Thallemer said.

Thallemer said he feels an obligation to make the building available to the private sector before considering ways the property could potentially be transfered, leased or sold to the non-profit arts group, which has used numerous locations over the past 50 years to showcase its local artistic talent.

The arts group currently has a small gallery on Winona Avenue.

Representatives of Lakeland said they believe the old city building could be fixed up and turned into a fine arts museum that could become a tourist attraction. They also contend they would have solid financial support to renovate the building, but at the same time are suggesting the city make repairs to the roof and possibly “gift” it to them.

Their eagerness seems to contrast with Thallemer’s desire to look at all the options before making a decision, which ultimately sits with city council.

“I think it’s perceived that I don’t want this (to happen). I think that’s the furthest thing from the truth. I would love to have an art museum in the city. But by the same token, I’d like to have city hall occupied and back on the tax rolls.”

He added, “I would like nothing better than an art museum, I just have a responsibility to the citizens to offer that property to the general public first, following the state statue at the appraised value.”

The building’s future will likely come up during an annual strategic planning meeting hosted by city council at 5 p.m. Monday at city hall.

The meeting is open to the public and representatives of Lakeland have indicated they plan to attend and make their case for  somehow acquiring the building.