Nobles County library project advocates set to make their case
WORTHINGTON -- When three Nobles County commissioners are sworn into office this morning, one of the first things on their agenda will be to hear public testimony from Friends of the Library chairwoman Gretchen O'Donnell and Library Board chairwoman Jean Meester about the importance of a new county library building project in Worthington.
Nobles County Library Director Julie Wellnitz said she "is confident" the board will -- after new commissioners settle into their role and the project's size and scope are tweaked -- choose to move ahead with construction of a new library.
"I have visited with Gene Metz and Matt Widboom," she said. "I believe that all of the commissioners are in support of a new facility, but I think they want us to go back and look at the size and the scope of the project."
Currently pegged at a 30,000-square-foot project, Wellnitz said that size has been lowered from the initial 34,000-square-foot building identified from the needs assessment.
"That's what was recommended for the 21,000 population that we serve," she said. "We've gone down as far as 28,000 square feet and looked at that, but we will look at that one more time with the architect and the stakeholders."
Building size isn't the only thing to be called into question with a possible library project. Outgoing Nobles County Commissioners Diane Thier and Vern Leistico both said the city should step in and help fund the project because the library is in Worthington and serves primarily city residents.
Wellnitz said she has met with both Worthington City Administrator Craig Clark and Director of Community and Economic Development Brad Chapulis in recent months about the library project.
"We wanted to get their input on where they felt the best site was," she said. "What they have said is, 'We'll support a new Nobles County Library like we support any new business.'"
The library recently conducted a report on usage by the public and found that 23 percent of the library cards in use are from outside the city of Worthington.
"We do see the library as an economic draw," Wellnitz said.
She's also begun talks about developing a committee to assess the Adrian Branch Library's needs "in an effort to extend and improve library service" throughout Nobles County.
"They need some upgrading, too. I don't want to leave them out of the conversation," Wellnitz said.
In her role as library director for about a year and a half, Wellnitz said she was disappointed the previous board of commissioners didn't take action on a county library building project, but she also understood their hesitation.
"I certainly don't hold any bad feelings toward their decision," she said.
Now with her new role of educating the three incoming county commissioners about the groundwork that has been laid for a new library building, Wellnitz said she'll have to start the education process again when a new county administrator is hired. Still, she remains optimistic a new library facility will be welcoming patrons within a couple of years.
"My personal goal is, in the spring of 2014, to see groundbreaking," she said. "That goal is a pretty lofty goal, but I'm going to stick with it."
Library Foundation accepting donations
While the library building project remains in limbo, the Nobles County Library has started accepting tax-deductible contributions and donations to the Nobles County Library Foundation.
Established in September, the foundation received its first major contribution in late November, when the Worthington Area Foundation gifted $970. Since then, Wellnitz said a $200 donation along with other smaller gifts have come in. Every little bit helps, though, as the foundation has set a goal of raising $1 million within three years.
"People have come forward and donated because they see a need for the library and programming," Wellnitz said.
Money raised through the foundation would be used to purchase items to enhance a new library, such as furniture for the children's library, coffee bar items and other things.
"The project use fund under the Worthington Area Foundation is not meant to cover bricks and mortar," Wellnitz explained.
While she would like to move forward with fundraising events, Wellnitz said the efforts are currently "between a rock and a hard place."
"It doesn't make a lot of sense for us to fundraise when we don't know if a new building is going to be constructed," she said.
The library has been in contact with Library Strategies, a professional fundraising consulting group from the Twin Cities, about the possibility of helping create a fundraising plan. Wellnitz said there is a cost associated with their services, so talks would likely not progress until after it has been determined a new library will be constructed.
As for the foundation dollars, if $1 million is not raised within the three years, Wellnitz said it will become an endowment fund, meaning the library can access the interest earned on the money for library needs.
Anyone wishing to make a contribution to the Nobles County Library Foundation may drop their donation off at the county library, or mail it directly to the Worthington Area Foundation, P.O. Box 373, Worthington. Please be sure to note on the donation that it is for the Nobles County Library Foundation.
Daily Globe Reporter Julie Buntjer may be reached at 376-7330.