With legislators in special session, glimmer of hope exists for bonding money to fund W.E.L.L. project

The project dubbed the W.E.L.L. (Welcome, Education, Library, Livability) would be located at this site along Worthington's Second Avenue. (Tim Middagh/The Globe)

WORTHINGTON — While the global pandemic shortened the 2020 Minnesota legislative session, lawmakers returned to St. Paul on Friday for what is slated to be a week-long special session. Priorities set for the session include police accountability and reform and building a stronger, more equitable economy through passage of a bonding bill.

That creates one more glimmer of hope for Worthington’s W.E.L.L. (Welcome, Education, Library and Livability) project proposed on the former Campbell Soup property along Worthington’s Second Avenue.

Nobles County Administrator Tom Johnson said he’s received “zero updates” since the end of the regular session, when the W.E.L.L. project was in both Gov. Tim Walz’s and the House bonding bill, but was left out of the Senate proposal.

Still, the county is moving forward as much as possible to have a “shovel-ready” project in the event the $16 million bonding request is approved.

“The pre-design is essentially complete,” Johnson said, noting LHB Architecture’s completion of a pencil sketch of what the collaborative building — with space for the county, ISD 518, city of Worthington and Worthington Area Chamber of Commerce — could potentially look like.


It has been determined that “an acceptable footprint” fits on the Second Avenue lot, he added.

That said, the county is still trying to resolve a land ownership issue on the property. While much of the parcel is owned by the city of Worthington, Johnson said Minnesota Energy Resources (MER) owns a small piece “right in the middle” of the property, and there has yet to be any movement by the utility company to part with the approximately 30- by 100-foot “finger” that extends from the railroad tracks toward Second Avenue.

“It used to be the site of a gasification plant,” Johnson said of the reason for MER’s ownership. “Every time we’ve talked to them, they were interested in selling and getting out of that piece. If we don’t know what’s under (the concrete cap), we won’t be buying it.”

Johnson said the county could work around the finger parcel if necessary, but he isn’t sure it wants to.

“There’s a whole lot of questions around that — and a lot of work to do yet,” he added.

And, it all hinges on whether the legislature approves a bonding bill that includes the W.E.L.L.

Johnson said with the governor now saying the state must help the businesses that were destroyed in Minneapolis and St. Paul during the rioting that followed George Floyd’s death, he’s worried projects like the one in Worthington won’t make the cut for bonding this year.

If that is the case, Johnson doesn’t see the W.E.L.L. project advancing.


“I think it’s going to be pretty hard to get the project to move forward without state money,” he said.

If it gets in the bonding bill, Johnson said it will take the architects at least three to four months to come up with a final design. Meanwhile, the goal would be to start some of the soil remediation work this fall.

Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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