County, city discuss joint library, senior centerWORTHINGTON — Nobles County Commissioners and Worthington City Council members gathered for an early morning brainstorming session Monday to discuss the potential to work together on a joint library and senior center facility.
By: Julie Buntjer, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — Nobles County Commissioners and Worthington City Council members gathered for an early morning brainstorming session Monday to discuss the potential to work together on a joint library and senior center facility.
Alderman Mike Woll said after having curbside discussions and following stories in the Daily Globe, it was time for the two entities to sit down and talk about the potential for collaboration.
“Our senior center has really travelled a slow pace,” Woll said. “We really need to get that rolling.”
County board chairman David Benson said action taken by commissioners last week to end discussion on remodeling or adding onto the existing library has “accelerated the potential pace of cooperation” between the county and city.
“We really feel that we’re land-locked in the site that we have,” Benson said. “I think there could be the potential for a community library-senior center at another site.”
Both boards agreed that a library and senior center would be a good collaboration, and would save about one-third of the costs because the two entities could share common areas such as restrooms.
“I think it would be an excellent fit,” said Commissioner Vern Leistico. “You could get a lot of seniors to volunteer in the library.”
Benson said the facility could also include space for the county’s RSVP office. The agency organizes senior volunteers to meet needs throughout the county. Renting office space to RSVP would be a source of revenue, he said, adding that there is potential to include office space for the Plum Creek Library staff as well.
Much of Monday morning’s discussion was spent focusing on the former Campbell’s Soup property along First Avenue as the potential site for developing the project.
“We bring up Campbell’s Soup property more than anything else, in part because of our obligation that that property be used for public purpose,” said Alderman Lyle TenHaken.
He explained the city’s 2010 deadline to designate the land for public purpose — a contingency of the $800,000 the city received from the state to demolish the Campbell Soup buildings. The city has since received a two-year extension on making the designation.
TenHaken said the designation pertains to the land at the top of the hill, adjacent to Ninth Street. That leaves the bottom area of the hill available for private development, he added.
Time was spent addressing some of the public concerns about the Campbell’s Soup lot, such as its close proximity to the railroad tracks and the lake. Both issues were raised by library board members in a previous county meeting.
Benson said options to reduce noise could range from street relocation to additional insulation and planting trees between the development and the railroad. Alderman Mike Kuhle said the space was centrally located, which was a benefit to the Campbell’s Soup property.
Leistico cautioned the group on getting locked into the Campbell’s site, suggesting other alternatives also be considered. Woll, on the other hand, said he envisioned a building at the top of the hill along First Avenue with glass doors facing toward Lake Okabena.
“We’ve got this wonderful, wonderful opportunity,” said Woll, calling the project’s potential a “Rockefeller Center” of Worthington. “I do think there’s a unique opportunity for us to do something very special here.”
Mayor Alan Oberloh said any designs for the development should include a green component, and asked the city and county administrators to work together on requests for conceptual drawings on a combined facility.
Financing the project was also discussed briefly, with city leaders talking about using legacy funds from the sale of the city’s hospital to pay for the bricks and mortar of a new building.
“We have to show the community that we’re giving something back to them,” said Oberloh. “It’s something tangible that we can say to the people.”
Oberloh said there are people who think the city and county shouldn’t be doing any projects in light of the economy, but said the idea of a shared senior center and library is one of the best ideas for collaboration to save both money and resources.
Before the meeting ended, the groups had decided to include the Nobles County Historical Society and Art Center in the discussion. A work group will be established to include a representative from each of those agencies, as well as from the library, senior center, RSVP and Plum Creek. Benson and Leistico will represent the county board in the work group, while city representatives will be Woll and Alderman Scott Nelson.