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Fire leads to uncertainty for employees, customers

Every cloud has a silver lining. When God closes a door, He opens a window.

It could have been worse.

The sayings may be cliché, but that's kind of how the management at the Farmington American Legion is looking at last weekend's fire.

Structurally, the building has received little damage, and with time, the doors will reopen. And when that time comes, the "new" Legion will likely look nicer than ever. Until then, though, plans for many employees and patrons are on hold.

Employees and people who had weddings, parties and fund-raisers scheduled for that back room all have to wonder what will happen next. At this time, Legion manager Dawn Paget is working with the insurance provider to see if there is a way employees can be compensated even a little while the Legion is closed. For many, the job was their only source of income.

Paget is also trying to help find locations for previously scheduled events to take place. Among the upcoming events, she had a good-bye party for a soldier heading to Iraq, a wedding and a pancake breakfast for a girls youth hockey team.

"We guaranteed them that their parties would go off without a hitch," she said, "and now we can't hold up our end. These are their dreams, their weddings and their good-byes. How do you put a price on any of that?" Paget said.

Building damage

It's too early to know just how much damage the fire caused, but renovations will be extensive. On Monday, Paget was busy with visitors all day long -- Farmington building official Ken Lewis, the insurance claims adjuster, someone from the state Department of Health and the Minnesota Insurance Restoration Services just to name a few. None of them could give an exact damage estimate.

The actual fire damage, Lewis said, is minimal and mostly confined to the northwest corner where the fire started. The greater damage is in the soot that covers everything and flooding caused by the sprinkler system. Water damage aside, the sprinklers saved the building, he added.

"They're lucky for that. Very lucky. Very, very lucky. If it wouldn't have been for those sprinklers, that building would have been gone," Lewis said.

When the health department came through, the message was simple: toss everything. All the open alcohol bottles have to go, as does the main bar in its entirety. Tables, carpet, ceiling tiles, food in soft packaging and every last piece of electrical equipment in the building has to go. The 16 new barstools bought in November must go, as do the three big screen televisions. Insurance will cover much of those costs.

MIRS owner Jason Amundson said it will be a while before he can put dollar figure on what needs to be done. For one, the dining room and bar areas shared the same furnace system, and the whole thing needs to be replaced. Water was cleaned up quickly by his staff early Sunday morning, but they will not know if there are damaged floor boards until the carpeting comes up. Additionally, the 36-year-old building needs to be brought up to today's codes.


Amundson plans to do the restoration in two phases. He hopes to get the dining room and back bar renovated and open to the public within 30 to 45 days. The health inspector agreed the building was not substantially damaged in the back, and the kitchen is in good working order, so once that work is complete, the back area will be open. Amundson will build temporary walls to section off the bar area from the back.

Renovations to the rest of the building will likely take more time. Amundson figures it will be about three months before the entire building is ready to be opened to the public.

Under investigation

The fire remains under investigation on two fronts. Fire marshal John Powers has found no other cause but a discarded cigarette at the fire's origin, leading him to confirm his initial suspicions.

So the question then becomes, who was smoking? That, Farmington police chief Brian Lindquist said, is under investigation. Detective Mark Sundgren has been to the Legion to collect evidence and has started interviewing witnesses. The Legion also turned over a copy of its surveillance video to aid in the investigation.