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Nobles County asked to contribute to historical society's plans for a museum inside the former Armory

WORTHINGTON -- Nobles County Historical Society (NCHS) board members Jerry Fiola and Art Frame presented their request Wednesday for a half-million-dollar county contribution toward renovating the county-owned Armory Business Center into a histor...

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Armory Business Center.

WORTHINGTON - Nobles County Historical Society (NCHS) board members Jerry Fiola and Art Frame presented their request Wednesday for a half-million-dollar county contribution toward renovating the county-owned Armory Business Center into a historical museum.
The funds, if authorized, would match what the city of Worthington has already agreed to give, and together, the two contributions would meet a $1 million match challenge offered by local residents Bob and Pat Ludlow.

The $500,000 sought from Nobles County would be in addition to the $50,000 NCHS is requesting as a 2019 appropriation to help fund their operation of the museum.

While there was no discussion about where the county would come up with $500,000, Commissioner Gene Metz asked if transferring ownership of the armory to NCHS could count toward the contribution. The county bought the armory in 2015 for $225,000.
“We need so much money just to do what we need to do to the building,” responded Fiola, adding that NCHS favors a lease arrangement with the county. Fiola didn’t mention how much NCHS was willing to pay the county for the building lease.

Nobles County Administrator Tom Johnson reminded commissioners that the armory building is in need of some work, which would fall on the county if they retained ownership. He specifically mentioned the southeast corner of the building, where some bricks have collapsed and tuckpointing is needed. He also cited needed repairs to the gymnasium wall.

“There’s more that has to be done … and presumably that’s over the $500,000 too,” Johnson said.

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Commissioner Donald Linssen said ownership of the armory has to be part of the discussion before the board can talk about the possibility of a half-million-dollar contribution.

In addition to the more immediate facade repairs, extensive renovations are needed inside the historic building.

An architect hired by Nobles County three years ago estimated the work at $6 million, which would be a full renovation of the building’s multiple levels. A different architectural firm hired by the Ludlows estimated the renovations could be done for approximately $1.6 million.

Metz questioned the difference, and Fiola said the $1.6 million does not include renovations to the lower level.
“In our plans, that was built out for storage,” Fiola said.
“I think the elevator is way underpriced too,” added Johnson, questioning whether the estimate was based on new construction rather than fitting a new elevator into existing space.
Johnson also said the heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system in the building is not adequate, to which Fiola said he is working on a grant application seeking $10,000 for an HVAC assessment. The grant application is due Oct. 12.
Relating to grants, Fiola said the society will likely not be awarded a state legacy grant it had sought to help fund architectural drawings for the renovation. The county previously authorized a $30,000 contribution to NCHS if the organization was awarded a legacy grant.

Meanwhile, Fiola said he’s met with a fundraising consultant to discuss a capital campaign.

“We’re not prepared to say what amount we want to raise,” he said.

The organization has requested a $22,000 allocation from the city of Worthington, and Fiola said NCHS plans to visit other Nobles County communities to ask for support for the museum.
“We won’t limit it to just city councils - we will seek out other organizations and foundations,” Fiola said, adding that the historical society is “dependent on the county” to make the armory project work for their organization.

The NCHS’s $500,000 request will be on Tuesday’s county board agenda.

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Ahlers presses for no funds for library With the development of the NCHS’s request for $500,000 from Nobles County, Commissioner Justin Ahlers said Wednesday that he doesn’t want any money set aside in 2019 as a building fund for the Nobles County Library in Worthington.

The library had requested the board consider setting $75,000 a year for the next 10 years into a designated fund for the potential construction of a new library in the city. A few years ago, commissioners stopped setting $50,000 a year aside for a building project, and that account has now been depleted after funding library studies and a renovation of the Adrian Branch Library.

Discussions about a new library have come before the board of commissioners for more than a dozen years, and nothing has been done to expand the Worthington facility, which is considered undersized for the population it serves according to the most recent space needs assessment.

“I think for this year we need to hold off,” Ahlers said of the library’s request. “Let’s get this museum project moved - we’re possibly spending $500,000 for the museum.”

Commissioner Donald Linssen said setting the $75,000 aside for a library building fund would not make or break the county.

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.
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