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Nobles County ‘spinning wheels’ on WELL

WORTHINGTON — Nobles County commissioners will likely decide on Tuesday whether they will contribute an initial $2 million toward the WELL, a collaborative facility that will house a new library and classroom space for community and adult basic education, among other entities, in Worthington.

Already, the city has committed $2 million to a library, with ISD 518 asked to do the same in a good-faith effort. The funds would only be collected if the state legislature approves a $15 million request this session to help pay for the project.

County Administrator Tom Johnson said in a board work session Wednesday that commissioners could take $2 million from reserves for its contribution. However, since the county would likely be the entity to seek bonding, it wouldn’t be necessary to provide the cash contribution up front.

“At the earliest, we could start bonding after the legislature gives us the money,” Johnson said. “We’ll know late May if we get anything.”

The potential to get state bonding money is slim, with Gov. Mark Dayton submitting a $1.5 billion bonding request for infrastructure. Another $3.5 billion in projects have come from elsewhere, and Johnson said only $825 million in bonds may be approved.

“This year’s a hard sell,” Johnson added.

Commissioner Justin Ahlers said if the county bonded for the WELL, there’s a possibility the public could petition for a reverse referendum.

“Our mindset right now has to be moving this forward as the most appealing,” responded Commissioner Matt Widboom. “It was 2008 when it (a new library) was first talked about. The city has put their money on the table and now it’s our turn to step up and decide … if we’re really ready to collaborate, because the other groups are.

“We have to be the leader as well, in my opinion,” Widboom added.

Commissioner Donald Linssen said at this stage in the game, the county has to say it’s committed.

“Until we get bonding money, I think we’re spinning our wheels,” he added.

Johnson said a commitment from all three of the entities will make a much stronger statement to the legislature.

In other business, the board:

  • Received an update on capital improvement projects. Gag Sheet Metal plans to complete the installation of the roof membrane over the new garage at the Prairie Justice Center once the weather warms up. The work is estimated to take four days. Completion of the exterior of the garage is also on hold due to weather.
  • Was notified by Jerry Fiola of the Nobles County Historical Society that the group plans to apply for a historical and cultural heritage legacy grant this year to fund architectural plans to renovate the county-owned Armory Business Center.

The society is working with LHB Architects, and has asked that designs be completed to show three phases of work. Fiola said it could be a 25- to 30-year renovation process.

Pre-application for a legacy grant is due May 25, with the final application due July 20. Fiola said they will need commitment from the county to move forward. Grants will be awarded in December.

  • Discussed plans to host an urban lawmaker tour in Nobles County July 12-13. Among ideas being discussed to show legislators are a DNR site visit, buffers, broadband, workforce and housing. The event will be timed with Worthington’s International Festival in hopes the guests would attend the event.
Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at The Farm Bleat

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