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Initial concepts shown for shared library, community education facility

WORTHINGTON — Community leaders saw a presentation Tuesday that revealed what a shared library, welcome center and community education facility — located on the former Campbell’s Soup property next to the Fire Hall — could look like.

Minnesota engineering firm LHB, which has been working with interested public and private entities for several months, showed off multiple concepts of two-story buildings that featured classrooms, shared meeting rooms, common areas, a kitchen, welcome center, gymnasium and library space.

Mike Fischer, leader of the LHB Minneapolis office, stressed that the project was unique, as it’s the first time he’s ever seen a group of public entities wanting to actively work together on a shared facility.

“All the city councils I’ve been on, we just sit and talk about how stupid the county people are, and the county people talk about the school district,” Fischer said. “But to sit in a room and figure out what to do, together, is a unique story.”

The collaboration came about naturally: Nobles County Library, Worthington Area Chamber of Commerce and District 518 Community Education staff have all wanted new locations for some time, and the city owns the former Campbell’s Soup property.

Fischer emphasized the benefits of a potential collaboration. He said the interested parties would save nearly 12,000 square feet and $4.6 million if they built a shared facility rather than individual buildings. The estimated cost of the concept facility came to $26.3 million, including engineering and design fees and excluding furniture, fixtures and equipment.

That number doesn’t include the estimated $2 million needed for soil remediation on the property, but Fischer said grant funding would likely be available to cover a portion of that cost.

The initial concept showed the library on the second floor. Members of the library board said during the meeting that the library would better function on the ground floor, as it needs to provide easy access to small children and the elderly.

Fischer said the concept could work with one floor, but two floors was less costly and more space-efficient. Regardless, initial concepts are just that: conceptual. Fischer said he was excited about the concept, and felt the site was best used by a public entity.

“If not us, who? Who is going to come in and clean up that site and spend their private money on this site?” Fischer said. “The site, being next to the lake and downtown, is a great location.

If the entities potentially spend money on that site, I think you get it back threefold in benefits to the community.”

He added that the project could get state bonding money based on its unique story — of community leaders with completely different interests and priorities working together to better meet the needs of their residents.

Whether or not such a concept is suitable for all parties remains to be seen. The bottom line is LHB demonstrated Tuesday that the property could work for a shared facility. Now, the interested parties have to work out the specifics.