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Library bond option sparks comments

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news Worthington, 56187
Worthington Minnesota 300 11th Street / P.O. Box 639 56187

WORTHINGTON -- Half a dozen people presented comments during a public hearing Tuesday night in Worthington regarding Nobles County's proposal seeking up to $13 million in capital improvement bonds to construct a new Nobles County library in Worthington. The bonds would also fund an addition on the Prairie Justice Center garage north of town and build a new public works storage facility in Adrian.

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The hearing, organized by county commissioners, drew more than 40 people, with those commenting providing a broad spectrum of responses both in support for or in opposition to the library building project. A new county library is estimated to cost $10.55 million.

Bob Jirele of Worthington was the first attendee to make comment during the hearing, saying the current library is "not very inviting."

"For a town this size, we really need a library. It just doesn't work anymore," he said. "I encourage the current board or the future board to vote in favor of a new library."

Fellow Worthington resident Ray Harchanko said when he moved to the community in 1968 from Fargo, N.D., one of the things they were attracted to was the local library.

"Now, to go in there, you've got to walk sideways," he said. "That was an attraction 40 years ago, but nothing has changed."

Sally Darling, a local teacher and mother to an eight-year-old daughter and 16-year-old son, said her family loves the library and is there every week. Darling credited children's librarian Jackie Van Horsen with the programming she's been able to do in such a small space, but said more room is needed.

"Her expansion of programs is essential," Darling said. "I think that we need more space also for the teen section."

She encouraged commissioners to consider green space when looking at potential sites for a new library, saying that the current space is small and close to the road.

Keith Stubbe, a Round Lake resident and losing candidate in the race for Nobles County's First Commissioner District, admitted that while the library needs a facelift, he is opposed to construction of a new facility.

"Why not move the (Nobles County) Art Center and the Historical Society out of the basement and turn that into a youth area?" Stubbe asked. "If you did that, you would be right at the space you want for a new library."

Armed with a tablet and a smart phone, Stubbe said he doesn't see the need for a new library because "everything is going to go digital."

"There's times to be doing projects and there's times not to be doing projects," he said. "What is this bond issue going to do to our property taxes?"

Wally Schultz of rural Rushmore also raised concerns about how the county was going to pay for the project.

"We have a federal government in debt to $16 trillion," Schultz said. "My feeling is we give this another five or 10 years, and China might come over here and say, 'You really don't need a library.' They could own the land. When your country becomes a debtor nation, we will own you -- we will take you over without a fight."

Schultz pointed to the capital improvement plan, which outlined Nobles County taxpayers' current share of debt at $41,581,528. Added to that will be the $4.5 to $5 million the city of Worthington wants to bond for to pay for the new fire hall.

"Now we're talking another $13 million," he said. "As citizens of this county ... you really need to think."

Henry Pfeil, of rural Worthington, offered a different perspective on the discussion, saying he would like to see more space made available for the Nobles County Historical Society. He said if a new library was constructed, he'd like to see the historical society take over more space in the current building.

"There's more stuff catalogued down in that historical society that nobody knows about," Pfeil said. "Nobody can see it. There's more history down there than you can shake a stick at."

In addition to the public comment collected, library director Julie Wellnitz and Plum Creek Library System regional director Mark Ranum gave brief presentations.

"The Nobles County Library is the center of this wonderfully diverse community," said Wellnitz, adding that the current space hinders programming for children and teens and lacks privacy for patrons and modern technology.

"We are simply unable to meet the vital demands of your community," she said, adding that a new facility "could be a warm and inviting social outlet for our seniors and it could be a safe and comfortable place for our children after school and all summer long."

In response to some of the feedback collected Tuesday night, Nobles County Commissioner Diane Thier, who has long served on the Library Commission, said operating the library on two floors would require additional personnel, which is an ongoing expense.

"You have to be careful when you have a two-story building," she said. As for a comment made about technology replacing books, Thier, a grandmother of 15, said her grandchildren like to hold books -- they like the smell of books.

Tuesday night's hearing began with a brief presentation from the county's bond counsel, Rusty Fifield, director of public finance for Northland Securities. He said the general obligation capital improvement plan bonds that would be obtained would allow the county to borrow money for public facilities at the lowest possible cost.

"Action doesn't compel anything to happen; it just empowers the board to do something in the event it wants to," he said.

The hearing, which lasted less than an hour, will be continued at 4 p.m., Dec. 6, during the commissioners meeting in the board room, located on the third floor of the Nobles County Government Center in downtown Worthington. Meanwhile, public comment will continue to be collected, with comment boxes at the county's administration office, 315 10th St., the Public Works facility, 960 Diagonal Rd., the library, 407 12th St., and at the PJC, 1530 Airport Rd.

Daily Globe Reporter Julie Buntjer may be reached at 376-7330.

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