New Prague post office inaccessible, cramped –– and frequently closed

Erin Adler, The Star Tribune, August 29, 2022

Doreen Schoenbauer needed to visit the New Prague post office two weeks ago, but none of the street parking spots were near the door. Luckily, her nephew happened to show up and helped her inside.

“I was ready to go [home] already … because I knew I wouldn’t be able do it,” said Schoenbauer, 81, of Jordan, who has a bad back and can’t walk far.

She’s not the only one with concerns. For years, residents and city officials have been frustrated with the city’s post office, which frequently closes for days at a time, once had asbestos, has no public parking lot and no accessible parking. The office, which is leased by U.S. Postal Service, is cramped, and its drop-off mailbox is blocked by a parking spot.

“The bottom line is, we expect better of the federal government and the Postal Service. We don’t ask for much,” said New Prague Mayor Duane Jirik.

Jirik said he’s reached out to the post office but has never received a response or the name of someone to contact there.

“It’s like it’s such a big secret,” Jirik said.

USPS spokesman Desai Abdul-Razzaaq said Tuesday that the agency “respectfully declines” a request for an interview.

A group of local leaders and residents met with U.S. Rep. Angie Craig to share their concerns in mid-August, and Craig wrote a letter to the agency.

“I find myself with no other option than to write and request a formal response to the following questions,” the letter said, asking about the office’s repeated asbestos remediation projects, how USPS can hope to be responsive if they won’t meet with anyone and how the agency is addressing the list of concerns.

Craig’s letter notes that the location is leased from a Illinois-based company called American Postal Infrastructure. Jon Otterberg, CEO of the company, said they just bought the post office building in January 2020. He said USPS ranks the company as a top landlord and that the company completed a costly asbestos remediation project in 2021.

He said he would be glad to do a walk-through tour with Craig, local officials and residents and that he may be able to help with some concerns, though the company has no control over road projects.

Craig’s spokeswoman said that as of Thursday she had not received a response from USPS to her letter.

Things at the post office, which has been in the same location for more than 70 years, became more challenging after last year’s construction project rebuilt Main Street, also known as Hwy. 19. The project added a roundabout but moved the drop box farther away, said City Administrator Josh Tetzlaff.

According to local newspapers, the post office has closed three times in the past three years. Closures were for legitimate reasons, city officials said, but thaty left residents with post office boxes to drive to Belle Plaine or Prior Lake to get mail for weeks or months.

“It just seems to me that it has outgrown its space,” Tetzlaff said. “This is a problem that we can’t seem to fix on our own.”

The city has grown from 3,000 to more than 8,000 people in recent years.

Many post office customers are senior citizens, said Scott County Commissioner Barb Weckman Brekke, and some get medicine through the mail. The closures have been hard on local businesses, too, she said.

A post office plays a bigger role in a small city such as New Prague than it may in a typical metro-area suburb, she said.

Weckmann Brekke also said larger trucks are unable to get to the post office via the alley because there’s not enough room for them to maneuver.

“Why are we not looking for a better option?” she said.

Resident and local historian Dennis Dvorak said he started raising concerns about the post office in 2007 and was told by USPS that the city would never get a new building.

A 2019 resident petition requesting a new location garnered several hundred signatures, he said.

Dvorak wants to see a new location with enough parking, safe access and decent working conditions for employees, he said.

“Whether you’re handicapped or 86 … there is no adequate access to parking,” he said. “It’s just ridiculous.”

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