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Library grant plan dropped

WORTHINGTON -- Just two weeks after authorizing staff to apply for a $500,000 Minnesota Department of Education grant for construction of a new library, Nobles County commissioners on Tuesday learned it may not be the best thing to pursue at this time with uncertainties about the project still lingering.

Steve Johnson, of Vetter-Johnson Architects, told commissioners the county was "too early" in the process, and that the grant application is "extremely specific" about building requirements.

"You would need to make a commitment now to fund the project," Johnson said Tuesday. "We think it's a bit premature to do that at this time."

In the days since the last meeting, Commissioner Matt Widboom questioned a clause in the grant contract stating that the county must adhere to the Davis-Bacon Act and pay the prevailing wage to contractors hired to complete the project.

Johnson said he didn't know if the prevailing wage would be greater or less than what local contractors are paid, or how that would impact the project. It's possible the $500,000 grant would merely offset the added cost of construction if the prevailing wage is significantly higher.

"By going with the grant, we could be shooting ourselves in the foot," said board chairman Bob Demuth Jr.

Also on Tuesday, Johnson presented a slide show regarding the viability of expanding at the present library site. The slides were last shown to county commissioners in 2010, and there are now three new commissioners on the board.

Interim Nobles County Administrator Vijay Sethi asked that the new commissioners see the presentation about the potential to expand at the current site, and requested getting "a sense from the board" on the direction they want to take.

The information presented by Johnson recapped the current size of the library building -- 8,000 square feet on each of two floors -- and the amount of space currently used by the library. The Nobles County Art Center and Nobles County Historical Society are both located in the lower level of the building.

The proposed size of a new library building has been reduced to 28,000 square feet, which includes 3,000 square feet for the Plum Creek Library System, and the cost has been reduced to less than $8 million. Still, Johnson said Tuesday he's "confident we can reduce the square footage of the new library; we're confident we can reduce the cost of the library."

He explained that the last remodeling project completed on the existing library building was in 1997, when an elevator was installed and a handicap-accessible restroom was created.

"You can add on (to the building), but there are a number of issues," Johnson said.

He listed mechanical and electrical upgrades, the inability to put an addition directly next to the existing building due to snow loading issues, and the lack of parking space.

"You're about 45 parking stalls short right now," said Johnson, adding that the county would need to purchase one-third of a city block and remove houses in order to create the space needed for parking.

"City code is one space for every 300 square feet (of building)" he said.

Adding onto the existing location would also eliminate nearly all of the green space, which is used in the summer for children's programming by the library.

Demuth, after hearing the presentation again, said he was convinced an expansion at the existing site "is not workable."

"We've got a space issue," added Commissioner Marv Zylstra. "Let's move forward and look at a new library project."

Commissioner Gene Metz said that when the cost of an expansion grows to more than 50 percent of the cost to build new, the county would be better off to start over and build a new library.

"It just doesn't give us any room for expansion," Metz said of the existing site.

Commissioner Donald Linssen said buying a third of a block and taking down houses "goes against the housing issues" already existing in Worthington.

"I'm not excited about $7.9 million ... but that's progress," he said.

Widboom said he was disappointed that the county seems unable to make an expansion work at the existing site.

"Just from the farmer's eye of, 'Hey, we can make this work,'" he said. "Why can't it go on the grass? You've got 8,000 usable feet in the basement.

"Part of me says you can take any scenario and sway it for or against a situation," Widboom said. "I just want to be truly sure we're exhausting everything we have."

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

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at

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