Rebuilding the Heart of Roseau, Minnesota After a Devasting Flood

Roseau City Center, Roseau, Minnesota
Roseau City Center, Roseau, Minnesota

ROSEAU, Minn. – On June 9-11, 2002, it rained in Roseau. An extraordinary amount of water fell over the Roseau river basin, drained into the river and overflowed the city’s levee system. As the river runs through the Center of the city, flood damage was substantial. More than 50 homes, most owned by low-income families, had to be demolished. The Roseau County Museum, Interpretive Center, City Hall, and Library were also damaged beyond repair.  The community came together to work with the state of Minnesota, FEMA, Northwest Minnesota Foundation and the University of Minnesota to develop a master plan for reconstruction – the Roseau Community Vision for the Future. A community design charrette and short- and long-term recommendations from engineering firms for a flood hazard mitigation plan were part of the design study.

The concepts born from this planning process laid the foundation for the development of a new civic campus in downtown Roseau. In May 2003, the Minnesota Legislature provided $500,000 in planning funding for the new city facilities.

At this point, the city council-appointed City Facilities Committee and DSGW Architects begin the process of developing a plan and budget for the new facility, which was presented for inclusion in the 2004 State Bonding Bill. While the project would go unfunded until 2005, there was planning to do in the meantime.

A city over run with water
Due to the flood, the Roseau County Museum, Community Center, City Hall, and Library were damaged beyond repair. Rebuilding these community buildings was necessary for the city to survive. Several potential site options were presented to the community, some in outlying areas. Because of all the amenities the new city center would offer, it was determined it should be located in the heart of downtown to maintain the small-town feel.

Flood Control and Mitigation
The most important consideration in the design is to prevent the potential for future flooding. The high water mark for the 2002 flood was 24 inches above grade. The new Roseau City Center sits exactly 30 inches above the finished grade of the existing buildings to allow for 6 inches of free board in the event of future flooding. The concrete base of the building not only anchors the form to the site and suggests the original concrete city hall; it is also the site’s protective “flood wall.”

The project, which includes a four-foot diameter storm water pipe running under the building, connects several storm sewers together that used to dump directly into the river. The storm water is now collected into a settlement pond instead of being directly discharged into the river.

Community Vision
Part of the identity-building process was the new community vision: “Roseau, Feels Like Home.” The community, primarily of Scandinavian descent, was looking for a modern facility that embraced this vision. The building masses were inspired by contemporary Scandinavian architecture, along with agricultural and rural influences.

The exterior forms suggest a link or bridge between rural landforms and the river. Heavy timber interior structure reflects not only the agricultural past, but also the past building that was destroyed in the flood.

Preserving the City Core using Livable Community Principles
The decision to build the city center in the heart of Roseau encourages the preservation of its downtown, rather than rural sprawl and the development of a Greenfield site. Because of its prominent location marking the entrance to the downtown business district, the city center is a focal point for the community. It is a magnet both visually and through its various functions.

The rural nature of Roseau implies that most people will require a vehicle to access the city center, but locating several functions in one location encourages pedestrian traffic once on site. The variety of amenities within a four-block radius of the city center include the library, museum, city hall, community center, Northland Community College, police station, fire station, post office, bank, central business district, school, arena and Memorial Park.

Alternatively, the Roseau Bike Trail runs along the edge of the river providing additional access. Plans to incorporate a community plaza and park along the riverbank to complement the city center are under development.

Form and Function
The community center before the flood was the town’s gathering place for events, and during the rebuilding process there was void to be filled.  The new community center with its varied configurations fills this void and once again has become the vibrant gathering space for numerous social, business, and educational events. The facility has hosted weddings, craft festivals, and several civic and social club meetings.

The views from the library embrace the river that tragically claimed its last structure.  The large open space plan of the library is highlighted with a cozy fireplace, which engages the public on blustery winter days that Roseau is know for.  Reading areas break free from the open plan to create comfortably day-lit spaces that reduce glare through exterior sunshades.

Interior spaces radiate around the central atrium and core of the building, providing a connection and sense of autonomy between the different functions located within the building, all with a simple, navigable floor plan. Twisting the library building form away from the rest of the building not only enlarged the atrium space, but also created a constricted point of entrance. This constriction allows the building to “unfold” and as one enters the facility from Center Street. Interior and exterior colors were inspired by nature, with a desire to depict colors that would be contemporary but timeless in their appeal, meant to fit with the character of the facility and create interest, without being overpowering.

Long-term financial benefits were considered in the shared operational costs of multiple organizations in one building and the use of durable, maintenance-free materials.

The Roseau City Center has become a vibrant symbol to the community and to the flood that they are not willing to let tragedy beat them, that they are survivors.