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Letter: Different vision needed for multiple planned projects

By Ronald A. Wood, PhD, Worthington

I always debate the value of open letters to our political units, but the issues at hand are too important to ignore, so I decided to let the public think about solutions to several critical projects that impact all three units of local government.

The City of Worthington has signed a contingency contract for MC Fitness; the School District 518 is about to embark on a $10 million construction project for gymnastics and the ALC; and the county continues to hem and haw about the Armory and the Library. Instead of three separate decisions, we should move out of our silos and come up with a combined decision.

First, MC Fitness should become a combined ALC, Community Education Center, gymnastics and recreation center project. Some may remember that the front of the building was redesigned to house a charter school about a decade ago. Classrooms are available. Office space is in place. A limited kitchen is present. All of this in the block structure part of the facility. The remaining part of the facility is a high roof open space area with ample room for a fixed space gymnastic facility and the ability to continue a large open area for indoor soccer, baseball and softball indoor practice for the college and high school, indoor tennis, etc. While much would need to be done to repurpose the building, it certainly would be much less than $10 million for the school district project and the costs that the city would pay to repurpose for some unknown use. Our town has lost a movie theater, a bowling alley and a golf course in the last three-plus years. We can not afford to lose a facility that, while underutilized, still provides a venue for indoor winter recreation to a large segment of our population. We need to repurpose old venues for our community to use, as was done with the old fire hall and the old YMCA.

Second, if we did this, it would open opportunities to continue our thought process of repurposing and rehabbing existing facilities instead of tearing them down and rebuilding less structurally sound buildings as replacements. Nobles County owns both the War Memorial Building (library) and the Armory. In an open meeting, Worthington’s mayor supported the historical society moving to the Armory a year ago. Move gymnastics out of the Armory to MC Fitness, rehab Armory to house Nobles County Historical Society and rehab War Memorial into new library.

This facility map would cost half of what it would cost to follow ISD 518 ALC/gymnastic project, new library/Community Education building and all the issues left with an empty library building and Armory. Over the last three-plus years, we have seen significant increases in our property tax bill caused by all three governmental entities. Much of the capital cost associated with repurposing could be covered by a new half-cent sales tax, and for operational costs an increase in food/beverage and lodging tax would eliminate an impact on property tax. This would pass a significant portion of the cost to those who do not live here.

It is time to change our direction and community attitude. The elected leaders need to step forward together, compromise and lead us before it is too late.