by April Scheinoha

The Thief River Falls City Council has awarded a $47,797 grant to VenuWorks to cover its expenses to turn the Huck Olson Memorial Civic Center into a potential area for hospital overflow or a mortuary for COVID-19 patients. The grant, which will be taken out of the city’s Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funds, was approved at the council meeting Tuesday, Nov. 3.

VenuWorks manages the HOMCC on behalf of the city. It took two-and-a-half months for VenuWorks to complete the process required by the American Red Cross. In a memorandum to the council, VenuWorks Thief River Falls Executive Director Nicole Gebeck noted that the HOMCC’s “overall cleanliness was well below the standards required for the potential holding of human remains.”

VenuWorks immediately addressed various items, including cleaning, lighting, painting and plumbing. Staff work enabled the HOMCC to serve as a site for COVID-19 testing in September.

Salaries for transitioning HOMCC into a potential morgue from March 19 to May 30 amounted to $127,581.07. VenuWorks received $81,000 in Paycheck Protection Program funding to cover a portion of that amount. The grant will cover the remaining salary balance as well as the cost of disinfectant, gloves, paint, light bulbs, and batteries for the lift.
The city has received $673,542 in CARES Act funding to cover its costs related to the pandemic. About $378,000 remains to be spent; however, some large expenses are still expected. The city has to spend the money by Sunday, Nov. 15 or forfeit the money to Pennington County. The county has received its own allotment of CARES Act funding, which it has to use by Tuesday, Dec. 15 or forfeit it to the state.

As part of its consent agenda, the council approved extending the State of Emergency through Thursday, Nov. 12 or until circumstances no longer warrant. This resolution has been extended numerous times since March 17 and allows the city to potentially recoup some of its costs related to COVID-19.

As part of its consent agenda, the council approved Ruth Ann Franke to the Thief River Falls Public Library Board.

The next council meeting is scheduled Tuesday, Nov. 17 at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall.