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Nobles County to seek proposals to sell armory

WORTHINGTON -- Nearly four years after Nobles County purchased the Armory Business Center with the idea of renovating it into a new home for the library, the board of commissioners on Tuesday voted to divest itself of the building.

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WORTHINGTON - Nearly four years after Nobles County purchased the Armory Business Center with the idea of renovating it into a new home for the library, the board of commissioners on Tuesday voted to divest itself of the building.

The county will now advertise a request for proposals (RFP), as recommended by its legal advisors at Dorsey & Whitney. The RFP asks potential buyers of the building to share their long-range plans for the building and property, as well as a summary of their maintenance plans. The RFP also states the county does not need to accept any proposal. Proposals are due to the county by 3 p.m. May 2, with a recommendation to be made to the county board at its May 7 meeting, and acceptance of an agreement by June 4.

The county paid $225,000 for the armory in May 2015, and has since then spent more than $118,350 on utilities, maintenance, snow removal and miscellaneous costs. It maintained leases with ISD 518 for space to operate the gymnastics program, and has also leased office space, generating $99,050 in revenue, according to Nobles County Administrator Tom Johnson.

An architectural firm hired by the county in 2015 looked at the building for use as a library, but that idea was abandoned because the space wouldn’t work for library services.

When other uses for the space were considered, the architect estimated about $6 million in renovation work was needed to the building, including repairing the southeast corner of the building where some bricks had collapsed, tuckpointing and installing a new HVAC system and elevator.

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Shortly after the building’s purchase, Nobles County Historical Society board members expressed an interest in relocating its museum to the armory. Since then, NCHS has received $2 million - a $1 million gift from Bob and Pat Ludlow that was contingent upon a $500,000 gift from each the city of Worthington and Nobles County - to further its efforts.

NCHS is expected to submit an RFP for the building. Commissioner Gene Metz, however, expressed concern that someone other than the historical society would submit a proposal.

“Are we at risk that someone else might be interested in the building?” he asked.

“There’s less risk today than if we let the Nobles County Historical Society put $2 million into it,” replied Johnson. “Through the request for proposals, we can do an awful lot of negotiating - we can negotiate terms with the bidders; we can discuss best use of the facility.”

Meanwhile, several individuals who are members of the Friends of The Library spoke up during Tuesday’s meeting for support for a new Nobles County Library in Worthington.

Jane Moore, Gretchen O’Donnell and Pete Navara presented each commissioner with a copy of “Palaces for the People” by Eric Klinenberg. The book tells of the importance and value in community libraries. They then asked that once commissioners read the book, they donate it to the library.

“So strongly do we believe in the tremendous value of significant investment in public libraries that we have reached into our own pocketbooks to present copies of this book as a gift to the Nobles County Library - but first, we wanted to lend it to you,” Moore said.

“Despite more than a decade of studies, public opinion polls, demonstrated need and advocacy all calling for a new and improved library here, skepticism about the need for one remains,” she continued. “Libraries benefit a community’s citizens, reputation and economic advancement, yet a new facility continues to land at the bottom of Nobles County’s priority list.”

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“Our library is vital and relevant; each day it is open, the Nobles County Library hosts job seekers, book lovers, researchers, after-school programs for numerous local students and much more,” added O’Donnell. “As commissioners, you recently voted to provide major funds to the Nobles County Historical Society - an important entity in its own right, indeed, but one that is unlikely to provide the type of services on a daily basis that a library does. And although we are well into the 21st century, electronic communications, the internet, social media and eBooks have failed to put libraries out of business.”

O’Donnell said it was eight years ago that she spoke to commissioners about the space needs for the library. Even though she said she’s an optimist, she added that she never dreamed she’d be before commissioners again, still asking for their support for a new library.

In other business, the board:

  • Declared a State of Emergency due to flooding from rains and rapid snow melt causing significant damage to public property.

Johnson said he has yet to hear from townships within the county regarding damages and cost estimates.

  • Approved a 12-month contract with New Life Treatment Center to provide chemical dependency assessments and treatment services in space at the Prairie Justice Center. New Life is awaiting its secondary location license from the Department of Human Services so it can begin delivering services.
  • Approved payments of $34,200 to Beltline Concrete Inc., for demolition of the former jail inside the Nobles County Government Center; and $14,479 to Woodbury Construction for remodeling of the Department of Employment and Economic Development/Private Industry Council space at the government center.
  • Accepted sealed bids on two tax-forfeited parcels after notifying adjacent property owners of their availability. A long, narrow strip of land located behind a grove near Rushmore was purchased by the owners of the acreage, Marriah and Brandon Aggen, for $10. The second parcel, located near U.S. 59/Minnesota 60 on the southeast part of Worthington, was purchased by Smith Trucking for $500.
  • Approved an extension of the lease agreement with ISD 518 for space inside the Armory Business Center. The school district wants to continue to lease space for its gymnastics program through mid-August as construction of its new facility is experiencing multiple issues.
  • Approved an extension of a lease agreement with the Federal Emergency Management Agency for space at the Prairie Justice Center to May 24. FEMA officials are working from the space as they continue to assess damages from 2018 flooding.
  • Recognized Pamela Verde, Community Services social worker; and Jay Clarke and Lonnie Roloff, Nobles County Sheriff’s Office sergeants, for 20 years of service to Nobles County.
  • Appointed Darrin Pater, Adrian, to the Nobles County Developmental Achievement Center board of directors.
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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