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County board talks Armory renovation, approves capital improvements plan

WORTHINGTON — The Nobles County Board of Commissioners met for a special meeting Tuesday to authorize the sale of more than $6.4 million in capital improvement project bonds and certify an application for a grant to fund renovations to the Armory Business Center.

The ad-hoc committee of the Nobles County Historical Society (NCHS) found that the State Historical Society has $400,000 in grant funding available through the State Capital Program — funds that could be used for renovations to the armory.

The pre-application for the grant is due Jan. 20, and it requires that the application come from the county and the county be the owner of the building. Nobles County must also agree to supply a one-to-one match to the final grant funding. The ad-hoc committee is applying for a total of $350,000 in grant funds, though the largest grant ever given through this fund was $320,000.

The board agreed to move forward with the grant, certifying eligibility and matching funds. If the project is awarded a grant, County Administrator Tom Johnson said matching funds would come from a local loan or reserves.

When the county purchased the armory in 2015, it did so with the idea of renovating the building into a new library. However, final plans never came together. The NCHS wants to occupy the building, potentially using it as a new location for the historical museum and a venue for various local programs.

The building needs heating and air conditioning, as well as a remodeling of its restrooms and other common areas to meet Americans with Disabilities Act requirements. Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership helped provide the group with a renovation cost estimate, which came to $775,165.

Jerry Fiola of the NCHS said it’s possible the renovation project would receive funding, as the grant is not “highly competitive.”

“This is one of the more underused grants,” Fiola said. “It isn't out of the realm of possibility that there might only be one or two people applying for that.”

Fiola said the pre-application asked for many specific plans the NCHS doesn’t yet have, but it would have an application ready to show they could use the grant.

“Even though we may not have all the details they typically ask for, we're going to do our best to put this together as a placeholder in there for the pre-application so we are invited to do the full application on March 20,” he said. “We’re just trying to show them that we've done our due diligence — we've got an architect, we've got an electrical contractor.”

In order to pay for additional expenses, Fiola said the historical society would have to consider fundraising. He referenced the Rock County Historical Society’s fundraiser for a new museum located inside the former Herman Motors building in Luverne as a role model. The fundraiser brought in more than $1 million.

“I think some of what you might need to do to be successful with that is come up with a visual schemata with what you might expect it to look like,” Fiola said. “Come up with specifics in order to give some of these people a tangible vision; an idea of what this could be, what it could look like and how you see this facility serving the needs of the community.”

Fiola said it would take three or four months of review before it's determined what the grant is. He estimated that the grant would be awarded in August.

In an unrelated vote, the board authorized the sale of more than $6.4 million in capital improvement project bonds for 15 projects.

The highest-cost project is replacing the leaky roof on Prairie Justice Center — constructed in 2001 — at an estimated $2 million. A garage addition to PJC will cost $1.3 million. Foundation waterproofing around the Government Center makes up for nearly $1 million.

A 30-day comment period now starts after the approval of the resolution.