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Crow Wing County Board: Vets memorial an 'eyesore,' officials say

Those wishing to pay respects this Memorial Day weekend at the All Veterans Memorial on Laurel Street may want to watch their step. Gaps between mismatched, unsecured paver blocks and a concrete border along with uneven surfaces present a multitu...

County Administrator Tim Houle discusses concerns with the All Veterans Memorial Tuesday, May 22. Houle said the county could be liable should someone injure themselves at the memorial, which has gaps in the several places where brick is loosely laid. About 3,000 bricks still need to be placed, according to one of the project organizers. Chelsey Perkins / Brainerd Dispatch
County Administrator Tim Houle discusses concerns with the All Veterans Memorial Tuesday, May 22. Houle said the county could be liable should someone injure themselves at the memorial, which has gaps in the several places where brick is loosely laid. About 3,000 bricks still need to be placed, according to one of the project organizers. Chelsey Perkins / Brainerd Dispatch

Those wishing to pay respects this Memorial Day weekend at the All Veterans Memorial on Laurel Street may want to watch their step.

Gaps between mismatched, unsecured paver blocks and a concrete border along with uneven surfaces present a multitude of trip hazards at the monument situated in front of the Crow Wing County Historic Courthouse. Flower beds are void of greenery, with a disheveled mix of cedar mulch and dirt the only contents. The memorial recently underwent an update and expansion, led by a group of volunteers, to honor more recent U.S. military conflicts, but the work has yet to be completed.

Questions surrounding the work quality and overall safety of the monument prompted Commissioner Doug Houge to request discussion at the Tuesday, May 22, Crow Wing County Board meeting.

"This morning, I went out and walked the memorial," Houge said. "It doesn't seem like a lot is getting done. ... It's a bit of an eyesore as far as I'm concerned."

"It is an eyesore the way it currently sits," Chairman Paul Thiede agreed. "And veterans are displeased with it."

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Veterans Service Officer Bob Nelson, in attendance at Tuesday's meeting, told the board the ad hoc volunteer group working on the memorial ordered additional paver stones but their arrival date was unknown. In addition to the bricks required to fill out a remaining half-circle of bare sand, the order includes personalized pavers purchased by individuals and families seeking to honor beloved service members.

Nelson said landscaping was initially planned for completion by students from Central Lakes College, but that didn't materialize.

"School ended before the winter did, and that has not happened," Nelson said. "They are working on that and they're trying to get things cleaned up."

Nelson said he'd encouraged the placement of fencing around potentially hazardous areas, but as of Tuesday, no fencing, cones or anything warning those close to the memorial to be cautious was erected. The annual Flag Day ceremony usually observed at the memorial by the Brainerd Elks Lodge-scheduled for June 14-was moved to outside the Law Enforcement Center, he added.

Thiede noted commissioners discouraged Nelson from being the point person between the county and the group "specifically because we didn't want him to get embroiled in having to marshal this through," Thiede said, a warning Nelson heeded.

"I certainly appreciate that it was not my project," Nelson said. "I will encourage them to move forward and get things done."

County Administrator Tim Houle added facilities staff experienced difficulty making contact with those associated with the project.

"We've been inquiring a couple of times this spring, and we just aren't getting replies," Houle said.

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The deep pocket

After the meeting, Houle stepped outside the historic courthouse's eastern doors and surveyed the memorial. He pointed to the areas most concerning to him-troubling, he said, because despite the project's responsibility lying elsewhere, Crow Wing County would likely be liable should any injury occur on the property. The work itself did not rise to the standards expected of county employees, he said.

"That's liability waiting to happen," Houle said, pointing toward a jagged edge of brick along a border. "Even though it's not a project that is being completed by the county, you can be assured that if somebody injures themselves as a result of this, we're going to be sued and that's concerning."

Houle said although it was possible the volunteer group could be considered liable, suing the county would seem more fruitful.

"They're not the deep pocket. We're the deep pocket," Houle said. "We're the ones that are going to be sued because people know that we're going to be able to write a check."

Although complaints were aplenty, Houle said several things about the monument went right-the footings for the granite slabs, the granite itself, the exterior foundation ringing the area and electrical lighting illuminating the memorial at night.

Houle said he understood the bricks in place are temporary, added to the memorial when the ground was frozen last fall prior to Veteran's Day. But the spring thaw led to uneven settling, and the lack of some kind of liner beneath the loose bricks meant ant hills already emerged from the brick borders.

Houle cautioned visitors to take care when navigating the memorial.

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"If they come, please exercise caution. Please be extra aware of the surroundings and the hazards that are here. It's not finished. Be careful," Houle said. "For somebody who is elderly and walking, this may not look like it's particularly dangerous but a lip on a paver block can be the difference between a fall and not a fall, and at a certain age, a fall can be a life-altering experience. I don't want to see that."

In the works

Reached by phone Tuesday, one of those involved in planning the memorial acknowledged there was work to do, but said wheels were in motion to complete work at the site. Mark Cross, who along with wife and former Brainerd Community Action Executive Director Nancy Cross is one of the volunteers involved, confirmed the bricks were ordered. Cross, a Baxter City Council member, said he was unsure when they would arrive, but about 3,000 were ordered.

Cross said he's been in touch with Reid Thiesse, county facilities manager, and would supply a schedule as soon as a timeline could be established. Cross said he last spoke with Thiesse a couple weeks ago and noted the landscaping was a priority. Despite a late cold spell in April setting plantings back, Cross said the group already spent time working on a sprinkler system this spring. After the first landscaping plan fell through, Cross said he had yet to set up anything with volunteers to complete the work.

"As far as the bricks go, as soon as the bricks are here, we'll address that," Cross said. "I'll talk to Reid (Thiesse) and see if we can't address something sooner as far as his concerns on the holes around the perimeter of the memorial."

Although Cross did not provide a specific timeline for this expected work, when asked whether work would be completed within the year, he offered an emphatic yes.

"I think we did a pretty good job getting it opened for the scheduled dedication (last fall), and there are some additional things that need to be completed," Cross said.

---CLARIFICATION---

Nelson was quoted saying the volunteer committee sought help from Central Lakes College horticulture students with landscaping at the All Veterans Memorial site on Laurel Street, but work could not be completed due to weather. CLC reports while students were involved with some temporary work in the fall, there were never plans for student involvement this spring. The Dispatch regrets the error.

 

Chelsey Perkins is the community editor of the Brainerd Dispatch. A lakes area native, Perkins joined the Dispatch staff in 2014. She is the Crow Wing County government beat reporter and the producer and primary host of the "Brainerd Dispatch Minute" podcast.
Reach her at chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com or at 218-855-5874 and find @DispatchChelsey on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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