Library wait gets longer
WORTHINGTON — The proposal to build a new Nobles County Library building on the former outdoor swimming pool site in Worthington has reached a snag that is postponing progress indefinitely.
Nobles County Administrator Tom Johnson describes it as the chicken-and-egg scenario — which comes first?
Because the former outdoor swimming pool site, located at the intersection of West Lake Avenue and Liberty Drive, is dedicated park space donated to the city by the E.O. Olson Trust, it will take a public referendum to remove that designation for any other use.
“We met with the city to get their input on it,” Johnson said, adding that city attorney Mark Shepherd, city planner Brad Chapulis and Nobles County Attorney Kathleen Kusz met last week to discuss issues with the site.
“It basically comes down to a couple pretty straight-forward things,” Johnson said. “The heirs of the trust have to say, ‘Yes, it’s OK.’”
The county has already received such notification — in the form of a letter from Starr Standafer in May — suggesting the site be considered for a new library.
Once the legal OK is secured from the heirs of the trust, Johnson said the next step would be to take the issue to a public vote, as required by Worthington’s city charter. Voters would be asked if they are willing to remove the parcel from city park status to pave the way for the library's construction.
That’s where Johnson’s chicken-and-egg scenario falls into play.
At this point, the county has issued no requests for the soil at the site to be tested. While it has a schematic drawing of what a new library building might look like at that location, it doesn’t know if there is enough space to build what is needed.
Johnson said, “We know it’s close.”
The question the county faces is essentially this: Does it start spending money on engineering design work before it knows the land is available to build on? Or, does it pursue a public referendum without knowing if the site will be large enough to build on? Adding further complexity is a city’s ordinance that states any construction projects within 1,000 feet of Lake Okabena have a maximum impervious surface of 35 percent. Impervious surfaces are parking lots and buildings.
“Is there enough land there for green space?” Johnson asked. “It has to fit the code.”
Despite all of the questions about the former outdoor swimming pool site, Johnson said the other site options for a new library are no longer being considered.
“There was just an overwhelming response to the pool site, that the commissioners didn’t even want to spend time on the other sites,” he said. “The pool site is certainly preferred.”
That said, Johnson reiterated that there's no certainty a new library will even be built.
“Even if everything works out and it’s right, we still may not find the money to do it,” he said. “It’s not a guaranteed project.”
Meanwhile, the county will pursue approval from the E.O. Olson heirs to allow a library to be constructed on the former pool site. If that OK is granted, Johnson said there could be a special referendum election in the spring, although he calls that “aggressive.”
There likely won’t be any movement in the process for the next several weeks, as the Nobles County Attorney is busy with a murder trial that begins on Monday.
“I don’t think there will be any activity until that case is completed,” Johnson said. “I just don’t think Kathleen will have the time.”
Worthington City Administrator Craig Clark said the city is willing to work with the county on whatever site it chooses.
“We want to work in collaboration with the county,” Clark said. “Just like any private development, if anyone is interested in development in Worthington, it’s our job to help them.”
Daily Globe Reporter Julie Buntjer may be reached at 376-7330.