Nobles County library project remains at standstill
WORTHINGTON -- With three new commissioners sworn into office during Tuesday's Nobles County board meeting, there were simply too many questions and not enough answers for them to approve a proposed $13 million capital improvement plan that would include construction of a new Worthington branch of the Nobles County Library.
With a potential site yet to be secured, as well as questions about the needed size of the facility and the associated costs -- along with concerns about the overall scope of the project -- the new county board seeks to go back to the drawing board, in a sense.
In his first motion as new board chairman, Bob Demuth Jr. authorized county staff to gather resources to address cost, size, scope and site options and report back to the board by April 15. Demuth's motion was approved unanimously. It followed an unsuccessful motion by Commissioner Marv Zylstra to approve the capital improvement plan at $13 million, which died for lack of a second.
While any movement on the library project may be stalled for four months, commissioners on Tuesday opted to move forward with the other two projects in the capital improvement plan -- a new county shop building in Adrian and expansion of the Prairie Justice Center garage at Worthington. Architectural work and cost estimates will be gathered on both of those projects, with associated costs covered by the county's building fund reserves. At this point, those projects are anticipated to cost a combined $750,000.
Tuesday's action came after Kathy Craun, Nobles County Library Board member, and Gretchen O'Donnell, chair of the Friends of the Library group, addressed commissioners.
O'Donnell said the library isn't just a place that houses books, but a technology center where people can access computers, the Internet and e-books. The facility is also well-used for children's programming, as O'Donnell pointed out it's the largest children's program of the 25 libraries in the Plum Creek system. There often isn't enough room for all of the children that want to participate, she added.
"I don't really enjoy spending time in a place built for 20 kids when you've got 40 kids and parents," O'Donnell said. "It's too small, and the space is simply inadequate."
While O'Donnell said she understood raising taxes was scary, she also said a new library can foster growth.
"Books and the importance of literacy that comes with books cannot be overemphasized," she said, sharing the story of her own daughter's excitement at being issued her own library card and being a "part of the club."
"This club is free and open to anyone of any age and any ethnicity," O'Donnell said.
Craun echoed that sentiment, asking the board to take action and invest in the community.
"We expect that of you," Craun said. "You're wasting valuable time and energy while costs only continue to escalate. Opportunities have been missed. I ask you to use your leadership to move this forward."
Zylstra said failure to approve the capital improvement plan would back up the project and require additional public hearings.
"As elected leaders, we need to make a decision," he said, referring to the county's mission statement of "Improving the quality of life for individuals, families and communities by fostering a healthy economy and environment."
"There's always a cost, but I think we need to invest in the future of our children and our county," Zylstra added.
Commissioner Matt Widboom said there were too many concerns in the public and he'd "rather move forward when we can confidently say, 'Here is the proposal.'" He also said approving the capital improvement plan at this time moves the county "too far down the plank" before asking potential partners what they might be able to bring to the project.
"We need to work with the city, the school and whoever else," added Commissioner Don Linssen. "I would like to know what the size of this building is going to be. I'd like to know what I'm voting for."
Commissioners addressed the capital improvement plan and potential issuance of bonds after the previous county board tabled action at their Dec. 18 meeting, opting to give the new board the opportunity to weigh in on the project. In recent months, the former board conducted two public hearings on the plan, but studies on a new library building project date back to 2009.
Interim Nobles County Administrator Vijay Sethi said Tuesday that 14 sites had been identified for a new library, and "two or three" of the sites were considered closely.
Daily Globe Reporter Julie Buntjer may be reached at 376-7330.