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Tornado recovery lags for county highway department

No plan yet to replace damaged office, destroyed repair shop

At the La Salle County Highway Department’s office building, the open doorway to the right used to lead to the shop building destroyed by last year’s tornado. The dirt piled at the base of the front wall is for stability. The wall had been pulled loose from the building’s columns by the tornado and initially could be wobbled back and forth by hand.
At the La Salle County Highway Department’s office building, the open doorway to the right used to lead to the shop building destroyed by last year’s tornado. The dirt piled at the base of the front wall is for stability. The wall had been pulled loose from the building’s columns by the tornado and initially could be wobbled back and forth by hand.

Well over a year since the Feb. 28 tornado tore across La Salle County’s highway department complex, the operation still is far from restored.

While a new garage and unheated storage building have been completed, the department’s office still is a battered building with jury-rigged repairs.

The building’s front wall had been pulled loose from the building’s columns by the tornado and could be wobbled back and forth by hand.

The stability solution still in effect was to pile dirt against the wall. That also helped stem the incursion of rodents. Higher up, ceiling gaps allowed birds to fly in and build nests.

Windows blown out by the tornado remain boarded up.

A key loss felt daily is the destruction of the shop where repairs, signs and engineering work was performed.

The engineers were moved to the department’s meeting room, and a trailer was obtained to replace the meeting space.

A temporary repair shop was set up in a highway department shed in Serena previously used as the remote location for two snow plows and a road grader.

The space has been insufficient to keep up with needed repair and service work, County Engineer Larry Kinzer told the La Salle County Board’s Highway Committee, Wednesday morning.

“I think it’s important we get a shop up and running,” he said.

Previously, multiple trucks could be worked on at one time; now only limited work on one truck at a time is possible, Kinzer said.

Plus, he noted, the facility was without equipment such as air compressors, welding gear and lifts.

By Kinzer’s estimate there were eight heavy trucks needing repairs and 11 more heavy trucks as well as two light duty trucks that needed routine servicing.

Taking vehicles to commercial repair shops proved costly, he said, citing examples.

There was no argument by committee members to approve Kinzer’s request that an exhaust system be installed in the Serena shed after he cited health concerns for employees working in a space without ventilation.

“The safety of our employees should be number one,” said committee chairman Dave Zielke, R-Leland.

The problem, Zielke told The Times, is with the insurance company.

On Friday, County Board Chairman Jerry Hicks concurred.

“We wanted to give the nursing home and the highway department both top priority,” he said.

The county nursing home, which is located to the west of the highway department, was reopened in September.

“But we’re dealing with insurance companies and insurance adjusters, and that seems to slow the process down,” Hicks said.

Kinzer hopes to have a new building constructed, which will incorporate the shops and the offices.

“But even if we started today, we’re still a year away from getting it built,” he said. “And I don’t know when we’re going to move forward on it.”

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