WORTHINGTON - Nobles County Library Board members voted Monday to participate in discussions to include a new community library in a collaborative project with the city of Worthington and Independent School District 518.
The action includes stipulations that the library have 28,000 to 30,000 square feet of space, green space be provided, discussions take place about realistically sharing space, and safety issues be addressed with the site’s proximity to the railroad.
“The key word is we’re talking about exploring,” said board member Mary Ingenthron, noting that each of those stipulations is important to the library.
Nobles County Administrator Tom Johnson said all parties have already agreed that safety fencing needs to be installed between the property and the railroad. He also said he’s raised concerns about the green space needed for the library, and noted his concerns about meeting space in the proposed project.
In current bubble drawings of the project dubbed the W.E.L.L. (Welcome, Education, Library, Livability), the library is identified as a 24,000-square-foot space - 12,000 square feet on each of two levels.
“I am concerned that we get the square footage,” said Marlene Greve. “Our old plan was 30,000 square feet. Is 24,000 square feet enough?”
Commissioner Gene Metz, appointed by the county board to be its representative on the library board, advocated for the library to participate in the W.E.L.L.
“If you totally decide that you don’t want to participate in the W.E.L.L., then we’re not going to push it,” Metz said. “If you’re not interested in the W.E.L.L., then there probably wouldn’t be support to do something other than the W.E.L.L. I don't know that until we take it to the board for a decision.”
Support for “something other than the W.E.L.L.” referenced the library board’s recent discussions with Westminster Presbyterian Church in Worthington about the potential to renovate the church building into a new community library and art center with the Manna Food Pantry.
“We’ve been waiting for years to build some joint project together,” Metz said. “It seems like, in our eyes, it’s starting to align that way. The city and the school district are interested in putting money in and the county will - if it looks like there’s interest in collaborating.
Library board members made it clear they want to be included in any future discussions about the W.E.L.L. to ensure the library’s needs are met.
In addition to its vote to continue discussions about the W.E.L.L., the library board voted to cease conversations with the church. A previously scheduled visit by an architect to provide free advice on whether the church building could work as a community library will also be cancelled.
Metz said the church building doesn’t provide the amount of space the library is requesting, and having an architect come to look at the building sends a mixed message.
While Ingenthron said the church is an “amazing building, an amazing location,” there remains no consensus on whether it’s for sale.
With the city’s plans to renovate the large blue building on the proposed W.E.L.L. site - contingent on the state legislature’s approval of a requested half-cent sales tax to fund it - both Nobles County and ISD 518 may need to commit soon to their participation.
“The legislature might not pass the Worthington sales tax,” Metz said.
“That’s a one-year delay right there,” added Johnson.
Monday’s discussion about the library space prompted questions from Nobles County Art Center Director Tricia Mikle, who pointed out that plans for the W.E.L.L. do not include the art center.
Mikle presented a proposed space needs report and, while noting it is not set-in-stone and has not been Art Board-approved, said its projected needs are 4,000 square feet - up from their current 2,193-square-foot space in the lower level of the War Memorial Building.
“I would like the (county) commissioners to also think about the art center,” Mikle said. “We would appreciate being thought of. The library has always included us in their thinking. It does make sense to collaborate with the library.”
Mike Woll, whose business is located across the street from where the W.E.L.L. is being proposed on Second Avenue, urged those at Monday’s meeting to look at the bigger picture. He spoke of the vacant lot near his building and said that site could be considered as part of a complex.
“ECFE or the chamber could be (considered) over there,” Woll said. “Maybe you do an above-ground crossing.
“This is an incredible redevelopable site,” he added.