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Council approves ballot question

WORTHINGTON — Voters will get to decide in November if the former outdoor swimming pool site could be used for a library. 

During a special meeting Thursday morning, the Worthington City Council approved the ballot question to allow that site to be transferred to Nobles County for potential construction of a new library.

The decision wasn’t easily reached.

It took multiple votes, re-votes and failed motions to get to a point that next brings the issue before voters. At the end of the discussion, a motion to allow the park land to be declared surplus — and let voters decide the fate of the property — passed by a 3-2 margin.

A new library is far from definite, however. Thursday’s action only frees the land to potentially be used by the county. The Nobles County Board of Commissioners will have the final say as to where — or if — a new library will be constructed.

City Administrator Craig Clark explained Thursday morning that the city had given permission for the city attorney to seek a ruling on the status of the E.O. Olson Trust, which controlled the use of the land.

“Since it hadn’t been renewed, it had expired the provisions the city had with the land when it took it over,” Clark said. “That takes us on to the potential on how we would transfer the property. We haven’t really discussed it with council. Because of the charter provision, we need to take it to the voters to get their authorization.”

For the next 40 minutes, the council discussed the options.

“We’re to the point — now it’s before you, is everybody on board that the city has no use for it and we should sell, lease or transfer?” Mayor Alan Oberloh asked. “If you are, which one do you want to go with?”

Before the council came to its decision to transfer, the first question had to be answered. Council member Ron Wood said he did not agree with utilizing the old pool site as a location for a new library.

“First I’ll state I’m not against a new library; I’m not against a renovation of the current library,” Wood said. “It’s a beautiful site. … But our comprehensive plan maintains that we maintain our downtown core. It’s very clear in our comprehensive plan.”

Wood said the council has been diligent keepers of maintaining the downtown.

“The moment the YMCA left, what did we do? We put the Center for Active Living in there,” he said. “The moment we built the new fire hall in the downtown core, we were able to work with another entity, and now we have the Minnesota West tech center.”

Wood said he was worried about what would happen to the old facility once the library moves out.

“I don’t want to see a building sitting there empty,” he said. “The square footage doesn’t need to increase. If you look at most libraries — at least in higher ed — they are downsizing the square footage but giving more services.”

Wood moved to allow the city to determine if it wanted to move forward with allowing that site to be used for the purposes of a library. On a final vote, it passed 3-2, with Wood and council member Rod Sankey voting no.

The council then needed to decide which wording to use on the ballot — transfer, lease or sell.

“I’m not in favor of the outright sale — it would be better to look at either transfer or lease,” council member Mike Kuhle said. “At some point in time, down the road, if it ever ceases to be a library, it reverts back to the city of Worthington.”

Kuhle made a motion to transfer the property, but it died for lack of a second.

Kuhle then made another motion, amending the wording of the question. That was defeated 3-2, with only Kuhle and council member Scott Nelson voting in favor.

“Well, I guess it’s either not going on or we need to have another motion,” Oberloh said.

Council member Diane Graber made a motion to lease the property. That motion died for lack of a second.

“We could be here all day, folks,” Oberloh said.

Kuhle made a motion to transfer the property to the county and, in the event it ceases to be a library site, it would then be transferred back to the city. That motion passed 3-2, with Sankey and Wood voting against.

In other action, the council agreed to move forward with an iPad initiative to allow council members to receive materials electronically. Money had been previously budgeted for the expenses relating to wireless Internet and the purchase of the tablets.

Community Content Coordinator Aaron Hagen may be reached at 376-7323.