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Lancaster County is getting ready to sell one of its old, but lovely, WPA-era maintenance buildings.

The limestone maintenance building in Hickman, with wooden bay doors and gutters, will likely be up for sale this spring or summer.

It was built in the late 1930s by the Works Progress Administration as part of the Depression-era federal program intended to rejuvenate the local economy, giving people jobs and income.

These were labor-intensive jobs, using locally available materials, so limestone is often seen in WPA buildings in Nebraska. 

Hickman leaders believe the building is an eyesore and have been encouraging County Engineer Pam Dingman to turn over the property for several years, Dingman said.

There could be a better use for the property or the structure, said Silas Clarke, Hickman city administrator.

There has been community discussion for at least five years about finding a better use for that property, which sits between a Norris Public Power District substation on the east and trees to the west, and faces Hickman Road just west of the 68th Street intersection.

The building could be repurposed, but there are no facilities in the structure. In fact, no water or sewer lines run to the building, he said.

The 16,000-square-foot building, on about one-third of an acre of land and appraised at about $55,000, will be run through the official surplus property process. After a public hearing, the County Board can declare the property surplus, set a value on the property, then hold a public auction.

If bids are substantially lower than fair market value, the board can then negotiate a sale “in the best interests of the county,” explained Kerry Eagan, chief administrative officer for the County Board.

The county has five of these WPA-era maintenance buildings — in Hickman, Bennet, Waverly, Hallam and on West Burnam Street in southwest Lincoln, plus one in Sprague that has some “hodgepodge” additions to it, according to Dingman.

There were more of the shops in the past, in College View, on North 70th Street and in Raymond, she said.

Back in the horse-and-buggy days, superintendents actually lived in some of the older wooden buildings, but the WPA shops were built solely as maintenance buildings, she said.

Dingman has mixed feelings about losing the historic maintenance building. She loves historic buildings and believes “we should preserve our history the best we can."

“That doesn’t mean we should save everything, but we should try to save some things.”

“It’s neat historically, but it is really difficult to maintain,” Dingman said of the limestone building.

There has been discussion about trying to save the building, or at least save the limestone, which came from the Roca limestone quarry.

That quarry ran out of rock in the 1970s but is still used by the county engineer for storing rock piles and other supplies, Dingman said.

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None of the buildings are specifically identified in state documents covering Depression-era work relief projects.

However, county highway departments in several Nebraska counties built small buildings for housing road-maintenance equipment and snowplows and as storage for highway patrol units, according to some of the documents from the Nebraska State Historical Society.

Local historian Ed Zimmer thinks the buildings have some historic significance for demonstrating the wide reach of the county infrastructure in the early automotive days and for federal work-relief projects. However, the historical value is often compromised by later alterations, he said.

Other towns are also talking about getting rid of the limestone county maintenance shops in their midst. Waverly, where there is also a salt dome, is considering paving Old Field Drive in front of the building and asked if the county would give it that property so it could put it to a different use. 

Dingman said she’s heard rumors that Bennet has concerns about its maintenance shop.

In a discussion about the WPA-era buildings, Lancaster County commissioners also had mixed feelings.

Commissioner Todd Wiltgen said he thought the buildings have become eyesores and had little historic significance. But Commissioner Roma Amundson said “they are neat old buildings.”

Lincoln buildings that have made history

Reach the writer at 402-473-7250 or nhicks@journalstar.com

On Twitter @LJSNancyHicks.

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Reporter

Nancy Hicks reports on Lincoln city government, but she’s been following the leaders of local and state government for more than 40 years.

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