New Chapter: WUPPDR bouncing back from flood

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette Jerry Wuorenmaa, executive director of the Western Upper Peninsula Planning and Development Region, sits in his temporary office at Finlandia University’s Jutila Center. WUPPDR’s Houghton offices were destroyed in the June 17 flood.

HANCOCK — The Western Upper Peninsula Planning and Development Region had been talking about moving out of its Houghton location for years, said Executive Director Jerry Wuorenmaa.

The timeline got accelerated with June 17’s flood, which destroyed WUPPDR’s offices on Lakeshore Drive in Houghton. Plans are now for WUPPDR to move into the former D&N building in downtown Hancock sometime in September.

WUPPDR was able to move into Finlandia University’s Jutila Center shortly after the flood, where it will stay until sometime in September, Wuorenmaa said. Finlandia’s Director of Academic Success and Student life Erin Barnett, the wife of WUPPDR regional planner Brad Barnett, got approval from Vice President for External Relations and Advancement Karin Van Dyke to find them temporary space.

Finlandia and WUPPDR uses the same internet technology provider, which enabled them to get internet service quickly, Wuorenmaa said.

“We got pretty much fully operational by the end of the week that it happened,” he said.

After their time at Finlandia runs out, it will move into space at the former D&N building in downtown Hancock. It would sub-lease one of two floors to be leased by Upward Talent Council, the UP-wide administrative entity that operates Michigan Works and other groups. They have similar arrangemenrs with other planning agencies in the central and eastern U.P.

“We had been talking about co-locating for a long time, but it was hard for my commission to justify moving out of our building and leasing somewhere else because we owned the building and we had the tenant (5th and Elm) upstairs, so we were collecting rent,” he said. “…In retrospect, it probably would’ve been good to sell the building when we had a better chance to do it.”

Wuorenmaa said WUPPDR will first try to sell to 5th and Elm for a reasonable price.

Within a couple of days, contractors began moving debris and records out of the building. After a few days, Wuorenmaa began using volunteers; at least a dozen volunteers pitched in for many hours the following Saturday and Sunday, Wuorenmaa said, tearing out drywall and carpeting and removing some of the furniture.

Most of what was taken out was thrown away, including almost all the paper files, Wuorenmaa said. As far as he knows, the documents thrown out were past the legal retention period.

“We kept some of the most critical ones, but a lot of the stuff from the past 10 years or so was on our server anyway, and we had an offsite backup at Michigan Tech,” he said. “It was relatively seamless continuing operations. It was pretty sad to lose all the paper, but on the other hand, it’s kind of liberating, too.”

For some items, such as meeting minutes from the past 50 years, WUPPDR sent them to the company doing restoration of Houghton County records.

Some records that weren’t included in the shipment, such as WUPPDR’s records of its housing rehab programs, are being dried out by WUPPDR’s office manager at home.

The flood came at an inauspicious time for WUPPDR, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary.

“We thought, ‘Well, it’s already kind of a big deal as it is, so what can we do more than that?'” Wuorenmaa said. “I guess Mother Nature decided for us.”