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Armory debate to draw crowd at city council Monday

By Staff | Apr 4, 2014

For between 25 and 30 years, Gary Kirchofner held his winter Rugby Homes and RV Show at the Rugby Armory. It’s been two years since his last indoor show because a new floor was installed in 2012. That floor, a gym flex tile surface, hasn’t held up and will soon be replaced, but Kirchofner may still be out of luck.

The Rugby Public School Board has been in discussions with the city council in hopes of getting a permanent hardwood floor installed. The school rents the armory for the use of athletic practices. If hardwood is approved, the RV show and other sales will be unable to be held at the armory because heavy machinery and equipment could easily damage the proposed hardwood.

“I’ve been talking with Maddock and it’s very possible that I’ll try to get together with them for a show at their new building they built a couple years ago,” Kirchofner said, “which doesn’t show much for Rugby that we have to take our show somewhere else because we can’t hold it in Rugby.”

Kirchofner and other business owners prefer going back to a tile floor or polished concrete. Both can be easily driven on without causing damage.

The floor isn’t the only part of the discussion. The schools would like to add a key fob system to the armory and assume much of the responsibility of managing the facility.

According to conservative estimates, at least 30 merchants and community members are expected at Monday’s city council meeting to show opposition to a hardwood floor.

“I’m in favor of making sure it’s a multi-purpose building,” said Lila Harstad, a committee member for the North Central Dakota Ag show.

Without another sizable venue in the city, Harstad is hoping for some assurance that the armory can be utilized as it has been for decades.

“All of (the shows) are equally important because of the economic impact they bring,” she said, “whether the Relay for Life craft show, or the McGuire show or RV show. They all bring people to Rugby and that’s what I think a multi-purpose community center should do.”

St. Michel’s Furniture, the M.J. McGuire Company car dealership and Gooseneck Implement also have held shows at the armory. Pool tournaments have drawn crowds as well.

“I truly believe we’re gonna miss all these people who come to Rugby and take in these events,” said Shelley Block, executive director of the Rugby Area Chamber of Commerce. “I truly believe when people come to Rugby, we don’t just look forward to them spending gas and shopping. I believe they look at our town in a different way – ‘I can start a business here and grow my family my here.’ If we don’t have these people coming in we’re gonna miss out on that.”

Rugby Public School Superintendent Mike McNeff said he completely understands both sides of the argument, but doesn’t believe a tile surface is the best for athletes.

“We really appreciate the fact that we have the space,” McNeff said. “To have three gyms if you count Ely gym, it’s much easier. At my past district we had one single gym and we had kids practicing at 6 in the morning and 6:30 at night during basketball season. We have a luxury here and it’s something we have to work out with the city and we want to maintain that relationship with them.”

Both sides are seeking a solution soon.

“It’s hard to have a Rugby show in Maddock and I would just not like to do that,” Kirchofher said, “but we do need a show and we’ll have to do something some place unless someone comes up with a really good solution in Rugby.”

Dan Lagein, manager at McGuire Company, said the rent has always been affordable and he enjoyed hosting a show winter before the current floor was installed.

“We don’t need a big (venue), but you’d be surprised how many vehicles we stuffed in there,” Lagein said, “and really you’re creating an event is what you’re doing. We’d consider going back in there, we just don’t want to cause damage, No. 1, and No. 2 is if there is damage and it costs a lot to repair, it doesn’t make sense.”

All of the businesses owners interviewed expressed support for the school’s athletic programs.

“They absolutely need the space,” Lagein said. “We understand that.”

Block would like to see the support offered by area businesses reciprocated.

“Our chamber members mean so much to our town,” she said. “What these businesses do for our town in every aspect – every time there’s an event or benefit we go to to these businesses to get money and they’re always so generous and then we’re going to take something away from them that helps market their business?”

Harstad, who owns KZZJ radio, is concerned, but optimistic.

“I think there’s a compromise,” Harstad said. “I don’t know what it is, but I think we can work together.”

The city council meeting is at 7 p.m. Monday.

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