WORTHINGTON - The Nobles County Historical Society is asking the county to donate the Armory Business Center to the organization so it can transform the historic building into a museum.

The society was the lone entity to submit a proposal to the county noting its interest in taking possession of the 96-year-old, multi-level structure in downtown Worthington. Nobles County purchased the building four years ago for $225,000 with the hopes of creating much-needed space for a county library, but the project was deemed not feasible for the space.

Little discussion took place during Tuesday’s board meeting about the society’s 12-page proposal before commissioners voted unanimously to direct the county administrator to work with Dorsey & Whitney LLC, attorneys the county typically works with on bonding, to develop an agreement between the county and NCHS.

Nobles County Administrator Tom Johnson was unable to attend Tuesday’s board meeting due to a scheduled meeting with FEMA regarding damages from flooding and the April 10 ice storm. During a phone call Tuesday afternoon, Johnson said a development agreement is needed since the county owns the building and NCHS wants to begin renovations.

“Because we’re still the owner of the building, we have to agree what’s going to happen (to it),” Johnson said.

The NCHS proposal asks the county to retain ownership of the armory for the next five years and continue to assume all costs related to grounds maintenance, monthly utility bills, furnishing a licensed boiler operator to manage the building’s HVAC system and pay for building repairs unrelated to the structure’s rehabilitation.

Meanwhile, a summary of the society’s planned use of the facility was also provided. It outlines how portions of the building will be used, including the following:

  • The drill hall will be converted into the museum’s primary exhibit hall.
  • Drill hall rooms at the east end of the drill hall will be renovated, with one used for temporary storage of new artifacts and the other to house restrooms and a small theater.
  • The garage would be used for vehicle storage, including the late 19th century funeral carriage, a horse-drawn buggy used for rural mail delivery, vintage cars and trucks and small farm implements currently displayed at Pioneer Village.
  • The mess hall, shooting ranges and locker rooms in the building’s basement would be transformed into environmentally-controlled storage for warehousing collections.
  • Front offices would be used as office space for staff and volunteers, a reference library and for reviewing microfilm or reading resource materials.
  • The second-floor apartment would be converted into a large meeting room, and second-floor rooms would also be used as meeting space. The drill hall balcony would be used to display smaller exhibits.
  • An elevator will need to be installed, and repairs are reinstallation of specific features are also slated for completion.

The proposal states NCHS is not in a position to tender a cash offer for the purchase of the armory building. Instead, the organization hopes to build up its management capacities and financial reserves to be able to accept the transfer of property title in five years.

“We are asking the county to take into consideration the total value of the sizable investments we will be making, accepting them in lieu of a purchase payment,” the society states in its proposal.

NCHS also notes its intent to leverage up to $3.6 million to finance armory improvements. In addition to the $1 million pledge from Bob and Pat Ludlow, $500,000 from Nobles County and $500,000 from the city of Worthington, a $1 million fundraising campaign is planned with goals to raise $200,000 each year from 2020 through 2024. The organization also noted its intent to seek grant funding. Full rehabilitation of the building, the proposal states, is anticipated to exceed $4.5 million.