Village Post Office, new full service site being considered for 65014 customers; decision months away, residents told
BLAND — Residents of the western Gasconade County community of Bland were told Thursday to be patient in their efforts to have postal services returned to the 65014 zip code.
United States Postal Service officials told the crowd of 30 area residents there was a lengthy process involved with selecting “emergency” and “permanent” locations for any new post office site. Addressing the group via telephone from her office in Chicago, Marla Larsen explained her role in selecting real estate for postal sites and lease negotiations. Finding a permanent site takes longer, she said, noting if an emergency site is located, it could take 18 months to two years to find a permanent site.
“An emergency location could become a permanent site,” she said, noting again that process could take up to two years.
Larsen said the USPS was looking for a site which meets full “Americans With Disabilities Act” compliance with no more than 900 square feet of interior work space, a covered loading dock area and “adequate parking” for a full service site.
Property owners can submit proposals for consideration. “A national broker solicits offers as well,” she said. Then, a 30-day public posting of the proposal is made which “gives them (residents) a voice to say what’s good for the community.”
Another 30-day notice period is given and an environmental testing of the site is made in the effort of “due diligence.” Then the USPS would have to negotiate a new lease. USPS leases are for six months with renewals available up to three times for an emergency site.
Joseph W. Orr, finance manager for the USPS Gateway Performance Cluster out of St. Louis, responding to a question from the audience, said a proposal being considered could eventually mean the return of the turnstile post office boxes to a site in Bland with retail services remaining in Owensville. “Yes, we could do that. There’s nothing prohibiting us from doing that.”
Another option, he noted, was to create a “Village Post Office” site where stamps could be sold, post office boxes could be housed and flat-rate mail containers could be shipped out of an existing retail business site.
Nick Baxter, a Redbird resident south of Bland an recently appointed Presiding Commissioner, asked about the chances that rural route mail, and its carriers, could return to Bland for processing.
Cindy Bolles, manager of USPS operations out of Columbia, noted the rural route mail sorting was moved to Owensville in August of 2011 and that’s where it would remain. “The plan will be to not move the rural carriers back to this office,” said Bolles. Bland was among 10 cities to have its rural carriers moved to larger postal facilities, she noted, and added, “16 more are scheduled to move.”
She said cost savings in formulas used by the USPS were taken into consideration when making decisions to relocate rural carriers. She also noted the USPS was looking for no more than 900 square feet of work space for any proposal for Bland.
“We’re looking for six to nine (hundred square feet),” she said afterward. “Not 1,450,” a reference to the floor plan of the former post office destroyed by an Oct. 12 wind storm which tore off the roof, caved in the front wall and windows and damaged both side walls.
The former site, owned by Dick Heins, has been cleared except for the loading dock and roof, the bathrooms, a storage room, the mechanical plant and vestibule leading to the dock which remain intact at the back of the building constructed in 1961.
Heins had planned to travel from the Kansas City area to the meeting last week but fell and broke his arm, leaving him unable to drive, he said. He forwarded a two-page proposal to Mayor Ron Shafferkoetter on how the existing site could be returned to service as a post office.
“That could be accommodated,” said Heins when told of the USPS proposal to seek a smaller building. “We’re willing to accommodate them. All we need to do is put a front on it and a new roof.”
His proposal spells out the upgrades he was willing to make.
“That proposal is something to spark their interest,” he said. “I am very willing and anxious to see a postal facility that meets the community’s needs there. I have the greatest regard for the postal service.”
Heins said he received notice from the USPS that his rent payments for the site had been suspended. He said he hopes to hear from the USPS and have his questions answered.
“No. 1, are you interested in this site? No. 2, how do you want me to build it? 3. Price it out for costs. 4., New lease talks. How much do you want to pay?” he said listing his concerns. “I’ll tell you, if can afford to build it, I’m certainly intent, and anxious, to hear from them.”
He said he was pleased to hear so many area residents attending the meeting held Jan. 3.
“They’re all involved,” he said of the Bland residents. “They all care.
Bruce Sassmann, a member of the citizens group attempting to bring back a post office facility, asked about the timetable to make a decision on whether there would be temporary or permanent site chosen. Larsen told the crowd they were “a few weeks away from that” on a temporary solution. She said it could be three weeks before “we’re actually knocking on doors.”
Any final decision, she added, “we’re still talking about several months away.”
Shafferkoetter asked about the possibility of having a mobile post office building brought to town like ones used in “emergency situations” like tornados and hurricanes.
Larsen noted they still had to find suitable real estate and enter a lease agreement. “I look at it from a real estate perspective as a last one,” she said.
Orr said there were no mobile units “road-worthy of bringing here.”
He also said the cost of moving such a facility far outweighs costs associated with developing a local facility. Concerns with steps leading into such structures were also cited as a reason for not using these units.
One of the most promising exchanges came when Baxter asked if there was a chance the request for a postal site could be rejected under the circumstances.
“I’ve not heard of rejections due to loss to a storm,” said Larsen. “Unlikely.”
Bolles noting that if the proposal was rejected, the status of the post office in Bland would remain suspended. However, Orr, added, “approval is likely because of the way the facility was damaged.”
Heins declined to say how much he was paid in rent. That echoed a comment made by USPS officials when they too declined to comment on rents paid for leased sites. “The Post Office does not share the business end of the deal (between landlords),” said Larsen. “We do not give the business perspective. That’s not publicized.”
Shem Barger, the Closed Suspended Discontinued Coordinator for the USPS out of the Gateway District in St. Louis, closed out the 45-minute meeting. “I thank you all for the questions you asked. I hope this shed some light on the situation.”
“Obviously, the present location is not suitable,” said Bolles. “It’s very nice that all of you showed this much interest. We do hope that before you walk out, you will understand a little bit better how the process works. The Village Post Office is an option.”
“I’ll keep trying to get the approval internally,” said Larsen as she signed off.
“It’s refreshing to see people interested in the Post Office,” said Orr as he was leaving.
Along with the mayor, all four Bland aldermen were in attendance including Michael Slusser, Carol Waggoner, Matt Dittman and Gary R. Lee. Jerry Lairmore, Southern District Commissioner, was also present.
Pamela Payne, Gravois Mills, Mo. (state president of the National League of Postmasters) and Craig Slate, Perryville, Mo. (state president of the National Association of Postmasters of the United States) also attended but were not called to answer questions.
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