Corn Palace flagpole inoperable after April blizzard causes severe damage
Mitchell's main tourist attraction has been without Old Glory flying high above the center dome on the Corn Palace for the past month after the April blizzard inflicted damage to the flagpole.
Corn Palace Director Scott Schmidt said the mid-April blizzard ripped the flag itself off the pole, snapping the cable inside the pole that raises the flag using a crank mechanism.
"When it snapped it had a reaction and bundled inside the pole, and the crank mechanism is no longer inside the flagpole," Schmidt said. "But we don't have any cable wiring that can raise the flag; hence the flag is currently down."
In light of the flagpole damage, Schmidt has focused his efforts toward exploring other options to install a more reliable flagpole.
While weighing all the options for a new flagpole, Schmidt's main concern is to have an American flag on display as quickly as possible.
"Our veterans and military servicemen and women deserve the respect to see a nice American flag on display," Schmidt said. "We are in the midst of getting quotes for other options for our flagpole."
One of the options that Schmidt and city officials have welcomed is an automatic flagpole, which would include a button to raise and lower the American flag, eliminating safety concerns for staff members previously tasked with manually controlling the flag.
According to Schmidt, the building's maintenance staff have been manually raising and lowering the flag. It's a dangerous job that requires a staff member to climb two separate ladders to get to the beams of the center dome on top of the Corn Palace roof, which can be a hazardous task during inclement weather.
Maintenance Supervisor Jeff Hanson, one of the Corn Palace staff members tasked with raising and lowering the flag, knows how dangerous the current setup is.
"You have to climb up that large ladder to get to the roof, and then lean an 8 foot ladder along the I beam that connects to the center dome to insert the crank mechanism," Hanson said of the flag raising process. "Standing on the I beams can be tricky when it's really windy or snowing. It can be really slippery when it's icy and cold."
According to Hanson, on average the flag is changed a minimum of three times per year. In addition, Hanson said he lowers the flag to half staff to honor governor's orders and ceremonial events.
Schmidt acknowledges that displaying the American flag is a top priority, but the safety of his staff is also a main concern. However, the cost of purchasing an automatic flagpole is significantly higher than repairing the existing setup.
"The automatic flagpole is fairly expensive, but the safety of our employees is at stake, so it's a catch-22," Schmidt said.
Mitchell Mayor Bob Everson has shown support for the automatic flagpole option, and likes the idea of reducing safety concerns for the Corn Palace staff members responsible for raising and lowering the flag.
Before the $4 million renovation of the Corn Palace in 2015—which included the installation of twisted steel domes with no enclosure—Mitchell Mayor Bob Everson said there are now more hazards with the new domes compared to the old enclosed domes.
"There used to be a hole through the top of the center dome that the flagpole went through, and when inclement weather took place, there was more protection on the area where they stand to raise and lower the flag," Everson said. "Whereas now the domes are not enclosed, so there can be snow and ice building up where the people have to stand. But Scott (Schmidt) has done a great job at being mindful of the safety of the flag raising and lowering process."
Everson said the automatic flagpole that's been an option presented to the city has caught his eye compared to the other options, which include replacing the existing flagpole, continuing to have the flag be manually controlled, to removing the flagpole entirely from the center dome and installing it in the Corn Palace Plaza.
"The automatic flagpole lets us keep the flag on top of the center dome like it has been for decades, while reducing safety hazards for the Corn Palace staff," Everson said. "It's my understanding that the plaza idea came up in large part due to the domes not being enclosed."