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Project partners consider next step with W.E.L.L. project

A meeting between representatives from the city of Worthington, District 518 and Nobles County convened following Wednesday's Minnesota House Capital Investment Committee tour to discuss how to proceed going forward.

WORTHINGTON — Shortly after a Wednesday morning visit by the Minnesota House of Representatives’ Capital Investment Committee, leaders from the city of Worthington, Nobles County and Independent School District 518 sat down to determine the next steps in the long-planned Welcome, Education, Library and Livability (W.E.L.L.) project.

Following county commissioner action Tuesday to table a Memorandum of Understanding agreement that would set in place an agreement to split the cost of environmental services between the city and school, commissioners at the joint meeting were asked what information they’re yet in need of to help them make a decision.

Commissioner Bob Demuth, Jr. said commissioners would like information like square footage estimates to make an informed decision.

“I think it’s dangerous to use square footage numbers on a hand-scratched napkin drawing” said Commissioner Matt Widboom. “Is it fair to ask commissioners to vote on their commitment with no idea of the cost?”

City Administrator Steve Robinson suggested the county board could set its budget, then design the space within the scope of the budget.

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Robinson said there’s a few W.E.L.L.-related items he anticipates bringing before City Council members during a special meeting next Wednesday.

Those items include getting definitive answers on land ownership, making a decision on the city's participation in shared space beyond its field house, and determining what commitment the city is willing to offer regarding cost sharing of professional services to design and construct the new building.

Robinson said at this point he will propose the city retain ownership of the land, and set up an extended lease agreement with the county and school district for the building to be constructed there.

Officials discussed mimicking design, construction and operation agreements after the city and county’s joint powers agreement with the Prairie Justice Center.

District 518 Superintendent John Landgaard said based on the $12.5 million the school board has committed to the project, a community education facility will get built regardless if it’s at the Second Avenue site or not.

However, he’s looking for a decision from the entities on whether or not a state bonding decision will have an impact on the commitment moving forward. He doesn't want to see months of planning lost if the bonding request isn't granted.

Wednesday’s bonding tour and joint meeting were the latest in a several year process the three entities embarked on in an attempt to create a central hub for services while sharing in the costs of facility construction and maintenance.

The city has begun work on its field house after passing a local-option sales tax. Robinson would like to see a decision made about the proposed extension.

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“At some point I’m going to advise the city council that we back out and just move forward with the field house and pull everything off the table,” Robinson said. “We’ve been down this road for a very long time.”

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