After nearly half a million spent on W.E.L.L. project, entities back in limbo for space needs

090220 N DG wells project S1.jpg
wells project (Tim Middagh/The Globe)

WORTHINGTON — When the Nobles County Board of Commissioners and ISD 518 Board of Education each voted to walk away from the collaborative W.E.L.L. (Welcome, Education, Library, Livability) project in the absence of state bonding, they did so having spent — combined with the city and other potential entities — nearly half a million dollars.

The money invested paid for everything from engineering and architectural fees to project management and soil testing. LHB, a Minneapolis-based architectural firm, was paid $259,000, while ICS, a construction management firm, garnered $138,613. Braun Testing, hired to do the soils testing and related work, was paid $81,130.28. These prices do not include possible reimbursable expenses, noted ISD 518 Superintendent John Landgaard.

The contracted fees were divided between the entities based on the amount of square footage they would have had once the 83,800-square-foot building was completed. The school district will pay 50% of the costs incurred (currently estimated at $211,423.03), the county 40% (currently $171,661.73), the city of Worthington 5% (currently $75,777.87) and other entities sharing in 5% (currently $19,880.65, as they didn’t share in the soil testing). Landgaard said the final cost to each entity may not be known for a few months.

The expenses were necessitated by the need to show the state legislature that the W.E.L.L. project was shovel-ready if and when bonding was approved.

“That was (to reach) the level of design that the state required for bonding purposes,” Nobles County Administrator Tom Johnson said. “It seems like a lot, but it was the minimum we could do.”


Johnson said everyone is disappointed with the Minnesota Legislature for its failure to authorize a bonding bill in either the legislative session or the special sessions since. While it's possible a bill could be approved in the coming months, the W.E.L.L. project is not included on the list that made its way through both the House and Senate.

What the legislature’s inaction means for the county is that a potential library project has once again come to a standstill. Johnson said he doesn’t know what happens from here.

“I’m thinking there will be a short lull in activity,” he said. “We’ve got to watch the economy really close now. I think there are a lot of people that are nervous about what’s going to happen next year.”

Nobles County had committed $8.5 million toward the construction of the W.E.L.L., while ISD 518 had earmarked $12.5 million and the city of Worthington was to contribute $1.5 million.

It was Nobles County that took the first step to walk away when it became apparent state bonding wouldn’t be awarded for the project. The ISD 518 Board of Education followed suit later that same day during a regularly scheduled meeting.

Landgaard said he wasn’t surprised the county voted to walk away from the project.

“They had somewhat made that perfectly clear as we worked through it,” he said. “I’m most disappointed in the legislators.”

The school district’s next step will be to discuss the future direction for its adult basic education, community education and related programming, which were to be housed in the W.E.L.L.


“It’s still the goal to get out of West by 2022,” Landgaard said of the space in which those programs are currently housed. “The reality is we have to have a home for those programs.

“The nice part is, based on the project for the W.E.L.L., we have some of the preliminary legwork done. It’s not all lost, so to speak.”

While Landgaard said the school district is always looking for opportunities to collaborate, he doesn’t think the county is ready to look at another collaborative facility to include a library.

“I won’t say it’s out of the realm to occur,” he added. “We’re at the point that we, at least from my view, need to make some decisions and address our needs. We’ve basically waited two to three years now.”

Johnson, too, said a collaborative project isn’t out of the realm of possibility.

“The school’s got to figure out what they’re going to do now,” he said. “If they’re going to participate (in a project), I envision we would.”

Throughout the entire discussion of the W.E.L.L., the one entity who did not support the project was the Nobles County Library Board. The library has, for nearly 20 years, been requesting more space, but several of its board members didn’t support the W.E.L.L.’s location on the former Campbell Soup property along Worthington’s Second Avenue.

Railroad tracks adjacent to the property and contaminated soil were among their top safety concerns.


“My feeling is that it was a lot of money spent on something we really didn’t support,” said Library Board Chairwoman Kathy Craun. She wonders what will happen now — and what county commissioners will support.

“The space issue hasn’t gone away — this whole issue hasn’t gone away,” she said.

Last year, when the library board voted on whether to support the W.E.L.L. project (it was 3-2 to not support the project on the proposed site), county commissioners told them it was either this project or nothing.

“Now what do they say?” Craun asked, noting her disappointment and frustration.

The library board will meet Sept. 14, and Craun said she will add to the agenda a discussion on where to go from here. Staying in the War Memorial Building — even expanding into the lower level once the historical society vacates — doesn’t meet the library’s space needs.

There’s also the costs to renovate. Craun said asbestos in the basement would need to be mitigated. The building would also need ground-level access to the basement, she said, which would equate to a walk-out basement.

“We could put offices in the basement, but that still doesn’t give us a lot of space upstairs,” she added. “Also, we haven’t looked into the fact that the library is a national historic site. That limits what you can do to the building.”

Craun said she’d like to see a standalone library building in Worthington’s downtown area with enough space to meet the public’s needs.


Library usage had been strong, with increasing circulation among children and teens, prior to COVID-19 and the library’s temporary closure and remaining restrictions.

“We were closed for a period of time and then went to curbside checkout,” Craun explained. “We’re still not open to full capacity, and we’re also limiting how many people can come into the library. Children ages 16 and younger cannot come into the library without an adult.

“Jackie has continued to do children’s programs, but she’s had to limit the numbers,” she added. Programs that once garnered 75 to 100 children are now limited to just 25.

Craun said discussions about a new library in Worthington began roughly 20 years ago with the change in population and the need for access to information and resources. The needs require a different kind of facility — one with adequate space not just for books, but for technology.

“The thought was to be ahead of the curve,” she said. “Now we are behind the curve.

“Technology and the way people get around, that’s changing. We cannot serve those people in the same way as we have in the past.”

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.
What To Read Next
Get Local