BELLE FOURCHE | The morning after losing an appeal of the Roosevelt Event Center's condemnation by the city of Belle Fourche over structural and safety issues, owner James Pietila said he is looking at transferring ownership of the historic building to a nonprofit or other private group interested in bringing the historic building back to life.
"If we are unable to find anything like that here in the next couple weeks or so, we more than likely will be quick-claiming this property and washing our hands of it," he said, referring to a process of transferring ownership of a deed.
Pietila and his wife Provatia have owned the former high school and middle school at 1010 State St. since November of 2017, attempting to transform it into a community events and business center.
But the Roosevelt will remain closed under an Oct. 9 city condemnation order after a six-member appeals panel denied the Pietila’s appeal of the condemnation during a public hearing Tuesday.
After five hours of testimony at the Belle Fourche Community Hall, an appeals board deliberated in executive session for 17 minutes before announcing its reaffirmation of both a July 2 notice of violations and an Oct. 9 condemnation and notice of violation for the Roosevelt building, according to contract city attorney Kellen B. Willert.
"We're disappointed that we couldn't come to any kind of a modification on the condemnation notice," Pietila said Wednesday.
The Pietilas, operating as Pietila Property and Repair, LLC, have been working to restore the building, raising funds to replace the aging building’s roof and address electrical and other safety issues.
The building had since become home to the Belle Fourche Chamber of Commerce along with three other businesses, including a fitness center and surplus store, all of which have had to or will soon vacate the building because of the condemnation order.
The Pietilas also hosted a monthly indoor market, called Le Belle Marche, along with public skating and talent shows in the old school gymnasium space.
But a Belle Fourche interim city engineer and building inspector, citing the building’s increasing public use, said the Pietilas had not made repairs to the roof nor addressed resulting interior water damage, nor completed inspections of the building’s electrical system in nearly two years.
City building inspector Chase Williamson issued a notice of 17 building maintenance and safety code violations in July, and on Oct. 9, issued another order declaring the building condemned.
The violations ranged from a dilapidated roof and structural issues inside the building, lack of an automated fire suppression system, lack of Americans with Disabilities Act access, bathrooms and parking spaces, to failure to obtain permits for exterior signage.
James Pietila told the appeals board that he fully intended to make repairs to the roof and had been attempting to raise funds to do so.
A "Roof the Roosevelt" campaign in 2018 netted about $4,900, enough to make some fundamental repairs, and a Go Fund Me effort continued with a goal of $150,000 for a full roof replacement.
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Earlier this year Pietila said he hoped the building being named to the National Register of Historic Places would open opportunities for grants to help with repairs.
Pietila also said the building is fundamentally sound and safe. He said the gymnasium has more safety exits than required and that ADA compliance issues do not apply to areas of the building currently not occupied.
“I do believe that the major code issues that would make this building condemned are not as nearly as major as the city has made them out to have been,” Pietila told the appeals board.
But interim city engineer Steve Nafus and Williamson said the building’s structural and electrical issues make it unsafe for public occupancy.
“Are you satisfied that the Roosevelt is structurally sound?” asked Willert.
“No, I am not,” Nafus replied.
Pietila did acknowledge the building's structural shortcomings, but also said he lacks the financing to complete the needed major repairs at this time.
“At this point the building is essentially going to be unoccupied. My hope is that the city would be willing to come and evaluate the claims on ADA compliance and the fire code, that the structure in fact, is fine, and we can come to some kind of agreement and get this thing back open,” Pietila said before the board's decision was announced.
In his closing remarks, Willert said the Pietilas are good people with great intentions of bringing a historical building back to life as a community center.
“I applaud them for what they are trying to do, but they need to do it right,” Willert said. “Mr. Pietila has an admirable dream, but that dream appears bigger than his budget.”
He said the city has worked with the Pietilas for more than 18 months to address maintenance code and structural issues, repeatedly asking for progress updates which have not been made.
“If anything, the city has given them too much leeway,” Willert said. “This is the point that the city has to do its job, to protect the health, safety and welfare of the public.”
Pietila said if a new ownership group is unable to be found, ownership would likely revert to the previous owners, a couple living out of the area who had sold the property to the Pietilas on a contract-for-deed, and who would put the building up for sale again, he said.
"If no one is around to keep up the maintenance and secure the building, this may wind up being a city liability anyway," he said Wednesday.