WORTHINGTON — Concerns about the proposed collaborative Welcome, Education, Library and Livability project haven’t dissolved among the Nobles County Library Board.
Just more than a month since the board’s 3-2 decision to be “all in” on the collaborative project along Second Avenue, the library board reconsidered its vote during lengthy discussion at Monday’s regular meeting.
“For all of us it was a hard decision to make,” said library board chairperson Kathy Craun in reference to the board’s July 29 split decision to support the project.
Throughout more than a year working on the project, Craun said the board has had a lot of warning signs and concerns that have grown as time has passed.
Craun said the board has a couple of options moving forward: it can elect to re-vote, which could result in its withdrawing support for the project. It could also continue to support the project with reservations.
With board member Charlene Wintz absent from Monday’s meeting, the board tabled the matter until a future meeting when the full board could be present.
Despite no new action being taken, board members present during Monday’s meeting had a lengthy discussion about the status of the project.
Board member Peg Faber told the board she’d like the chance to re-vote regarding her support of the project after experiencing many sleepless nights since voting “yes” at the July special meeting. Considering all other board members vote the same should a re-vote occur, Faber's swing vote could result in a 3-2 decision to withdraw its support of the project.
Continuous deliberation of soil contamination, proximity to the railroad and questions about the logistics of sharing space has resulted in sleepless nights, she reported.
“I realize that this is not what the library wants and this is not what the library needs,” Faber said, adding that the location is not in the best interest of the library. “I believe it is never too late to right a wrong, and I was wrong.”`
Having previously cited feeling excluded from the decision-making process, Craun reported that she and library director Marjorie Ferguson learned after the fact about a recent meeting that was supposed to involve representation from the city of Worthington, Nobles County, Independent School District 518 and the library. The entities recommended at the meeting hiring ICS Consulting to be the owner’s representative, or project manager, without representation from the library.
Although the library board had not formally made its appointment of members to represent the library’s interests on that committee, Craun assumed she and Ferguson would have represented the library and been informed.
“During that meeting it was asked where we were, and said that we were invited,” Craun said. “But in fact we were not invited, we did not receive any email or notification of that meeting.
"This is the process we thought we were going to be in, and it doesn’t seem to be going really smoothly again, and there’s a lot of questions out there who’s really representing, who should be getting information and why we’re not receiving information.”
Another development since the library board’s decision to support the project includes a written letter addressed to the board by the main library staff.
In their letter, staff members voiced their concern for personal health and safety for employees and patrons. They also expressed feeling like their voice has not been “heard and respected.”
Throughout the process, the library board developed a guiding document, which the staff says has been misinterpreted.
“Given these issues, we as a staff, would prefer to stay at the current location in the War Memorial Building until a more suitable location is found,” the letter states. “No matter where the library is located, we will continue to provide a high level of service to our patrons."
Board member Marlene Greve, who voted against continuous participation in the W.E.L.L. project during July 29’s special meeting, questioned whether the board would be taken seriously if it elected to re-vote.
Board member Mary Ingenthron, who previously voted “yes” to support continuous exploration of the project, said the board can’t continuously go back and forth and at some point needs to be a united front.
“There’s all these factors here that we’ve talked to death,” she said, “and I truly believe the county commissioners and the state of Minnesota are not going to let some of this stuff happen. They’re not going to let us build if the soil is bad.
"I don't want any child or staff endangered," Ingenthron added. "I just don’t think (commissioners and the state) are going to let it happen. It can’t happen.”
Monday’s library board meeting was also attended by Nobles County Commissioner Gene Metz. Although the final nod to build the W.E.L.L. facility is a ways down the road, Metz encouraged board members to decide its level of support prior to a Sept. 18 joint meeting, where representatives from each board are tentatively scheduled to sign the architectural contract with LHB.
The six-phase proposed architectural services are estimated to cost the entities $259,000.
“I don’t like to spend that money if there isn’t support,” Metz said. “We’re listening — you might not think we’re listening to you. ... It will swing my vote if I don’t have a commitment or ideas from you.
“I think everybody is honest — it’s a long shot to make this work.”