ELLSWORTH — Nearly 50 people gathered in the Ellsworth School gym Thursday evening to learn about the city’s plans to construct a new city hall and shop, and possibly build a recreation and fitness center, for the community of approximately 460 residents in far southwest Nobles County.
Ellsworth lost its 115-year-old, two-story brick city hall to a Jan. 15 fire. Since then, city business has been conducted out of a local church, and the shop equipment — including a snow plow and trucks — have been kept outside.
The Ellsworth City Council, with community input, worked with Falls Architecture Studio and DGR Engineering, both of Sioux Falls, S.D., to develop plans for a new city hall at the site of the old building, and a new storage building near the city’s fire hall. Additionally proposed is construction of a 7,500-square-foot recreation center with a fitness room, walking track and multi-purpose space, to be attached to the east side of the city hall. For that project, the city will seek state bonding and lead a fundraising campaign.
Bids on the building projects are due Sept. 5, so Thursday’s meeting was to inform residents and answer questions.
“I’ve heard a lot of people ask why we aren’t working on streets,” said Ellsworth City Councilman Paul Snyder, who along with fellow councilwoman Colette Smythe and community resident Rhonda Groen serves on the city hall building committee. “Streets are a high priority for me, but the city hall burned down. We need to rebuild it.”
The proposed new city hall is approximately 5,200 square feet and includes a city office, council chambers, community room with kitchen and seating for 80 to 100 people, storage space and public restrooms. The shop, meanwhile, is proposed to be 48 feet by 70 feet, with a 16-foot door and three 12-foot doors. It will be large enough for the city’s snowplow, maintenance vehicles and equipment. Both buildings will be wood-frame construction in hopes of enticing local contractors to bid.
Based on the engineer’s estimate, Snyder said the city should have enough funds to cover construction of the city hall and storage building. Insurance from the loss of the old city hall will provide up to $687,478.50 for construction, but the city will only receive what is needed. If the city builds a $200,000 building, it gets $200,000 in insurance money, Snyder explained.
Added to the insurance money, Snyder said the city has $470,000 in reserves, $279,805 in liquor store funds designated for city building projects, $134,631 in a CD, and $10,000 in grants from Nobles County Cooperative and Co-Bank. Those sources add up to a fund of more than $1.5 million.
“This is money we already have,” Snyder said, adding that neither the city hall nor new shop will lead to a tax increase for Ellsworth residents.
He also noted the city’s request for $1.345 million in state bonding during the next legislative session. That money would be put toward construction of the multi-purpose facility and perhaps reduce the amount of money the city would take from its reserves.
“I don’t know if we will get that, but (Rep. Rod) Hamilton thinks we have a good chance,” Snyder said, adding that bonding money would be a matching grant.
A capital campaign is then planned to raise the rest of the money needed to build the multi-purpose facility.
Snyder said the hope would be to start construction on the city hall and storage building yet this fall, while the multi-purpose facility wouldn’t be constructed until the money was raised.
“As soon as we do opening of bids, we’ll know better what the amount is that we need ... so we can start the campaign to raise money,” added Groen.
Community reaction to the plans was somewhat mixed among attendees.
Jerry Dreesen asked why the plans were not being put to a public vote. He said the community doesn’t need another gym and that the city is overspending money it doesn’t need to spend.
“Why are we building something that we don’t need?” he asked.
A public vote isn’t needed to move forward with the projects because the city already has promise of insurance money and other sources to pay for the new city hall and shop without impacting taxes, replied Mayor Tasha Domeyer.
As for community need, Snyder said Ellsworth residents go out of town for lots of things. Having amenities like those proposed would keep people in Ellsworth or lure events such as receptions or family gatherings to town.
Groen said when the all-school reunion gathers every five years, the group goes to Rock Rapids, Iowa, because there isn’t a space for them to rent in the community.
Rental fees for the community rooms and membership fees for the fitness room would cover maintenance costs, Snyder said, adding that a similar fitness and multipurpose facility in Lester, Iowa, actually takes in more revenue than it has in expenses.
Resident Kevin Dreesen suggested the city hall move into the vacant cafe building in town, noting the new furnace and air conditioner. That way, the city could spend its money to fix roads because “the roads in town are crap.”
The dollars set aside for the new buildings, however, are strictly to be used for building projects, not streets.
“I get there’s a lot of turmoil. There’s a lot of different thoughts on this,” Domeyer said. “We really want to do this because we want this for our community.”
Resident Karla Kvaale said if the city gets state bonding, it should move ahead with the multi-purpose building and fitness center.
“Why not put something nice up in our town?” she asked. “Don’t we deserve it? I would be ecstatic to have a fitness center here.”
Kvaale, who travels to Luverne twice a week to use the fitness center there, said while she’s there, she also spends money on other things. That money could stay in Ellsworth.
Groen said she, too, would use the fitness center and walking track, and she suspects a lot of other residents will as well.
“The majority of us want to make the community better,” Domeyer said. “If you don’t agree, in a couple of years, seats will be open to run (for city council).”