- Associated Press - Sunday, June 21, 2015

MINOT, N.D. (AP) - A piece of Minot’s history will be largely disappearing with the advancement of a downtown infrastructure project.

Basements that extend under the sidewalks from many downtown buildings are being abandoned and sealed as part of the project. These underground “vaults” served a purpose 100 years ago as places to deposit coal, run freight elevators or provide storage, but over the years, many vaults were closed off and left to deteriorate.

A sizable and open basement extension still exists at Niess Impressions, a printing and design business, where it has been used for storage until now. As a part of the downtown construction, the basement extension will be eliminated.

It’s with a certain amount of regret that owner Leonard Niess will be letting the basement go, the Minot Daily News (http://bit.ly/1fhPFeF ) reported.

“Once they fill it in, it’s gone forever,” he said. “I have emotional ties to the history of the building.”

Because it will be a piece of history lost, Niess hosted an open house Wednesday to give people a chance see the basement feature for the last time.

“So many people have been wanting to see it, and ask me about it,” Niess said. He added people also have told him handed-down stories about the building’s history.

Central Avenue is under construction, but visitors to the open house could find nearby parking by approaching from streets north of Central.

People also were able to tour the rest of the triangular building, which has historic value due to its unique, 100-year-old features and design.

Vaults, or extended basements, have been encroaching on the public right of way since long before the city began requiring permits for such things. After hearing from some property owners who wish to keep their vaults, the city agreed to consider requests for encroachment permits where vaults are shown to not present dangers.

Niess said his extended basement is sound, but there is a question about whether removing the sidewalk above it would compromise the structure. The cost of hiring the experts and performing the work needed to preserve the extended basement makes preservation not feasible, he said.

Underground vaults at Integrity Viking Funds and Eid Passport are the only others that the city reports are on the list for possibly saving.

Eid Passport previously reported that fire suppression mechanisms were installed in its vault during the remodel of the former YMCA building. They would have to be relocated at considerable expense if the vault is sealed.

Dominic O’Dierno, spokesman for Eid Passport, said an engineer’s evaluation showed the vault to be stable. The issue is in making sure it remains stable when the sidewalk and street are torn out, he said.

The vault holds two old coal boilers.

“It’s like walking back in time, for sure,” O’Dierno said.

The basement extension at Niess Impressions is particularly notable because it runs along two walls of the building, providing more than 1,000 square feet of space. Coolers were located there when the building was constructed as a creamery in 1915. The building later was used as a fruit company and as a distribution center for beer and wine. The building had been sitting vacant when Niess acquired it for his printing company 13 years ago.

A skylight through the sidewalk into the tunnel has been long closed off, but Niess has added electrical outlets. Niess has been clearing the extended basement of stored items in preparation for contractors to come in soon with steel frames to seal off the space, which then will be filled with a concrete product. A new sidewalk will be constructed over it.

An enclosed vault that is part of the extended basement is framed with timber, which will be removed before the area is sealed.

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Information from: Minot Daily News, http://www.minotdailynews.com

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