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NR city council votes to pursue all sites for a new library

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How the city council proceeds with the building of a new library was the focus of a portion of Monday night's regular monthly meeting.

However, exactly where and how a new facility gets built is still an unknown.

That's because the city and the New Richmond School Board have been at odds on whether any type of project should include "commercialization" at a potential site.

"Maybe we've gotten tripped up by the term 'commercialization,'" Mayor Fred Horne said during the council's discussion, but it's been a stumbling block that the city wants clarified and to get beyond.

Following a frank and open discussion by aldermen, the council voted 5-1 to proceed by considering any and all potential sites for a library, including the old school site, if the city can come to a meeting of the minds with the school board.

Alderman Craig Kittel voted against the motion.

The council also instructed City Administrator Mike Darrow to work with the school board to determine the best way to move forward with potential discussions. The school board, in a letter from school Superintendent Patrick Olson, stated their next public meeting is Jan. 16, but council member told Darrow that if a separate meeting could be arranged between the two bodies, that might be preferable.

"That's what I'm doing today," Darrow told The News on Tuesday afternoon. Darrow indicated that he had reached out to Olson in hopes of continuing the dialog because the majority of the council indicated that the old school site is still the most preferred and the most cost-effective at this point.

But they were also pointed in their comments about what has transpired to date.

Alderman Jim Zajkowski said he was disappointed in the fact that the school board hasn't been specific about its objections and what the city can do to resolve those differences.

"I wish we could get better dialog with the school district and have them speak in front of the public," Zajkowski said. "We're trying to build a library and trying to save the taxpayers money by possibly putting other things related to the library on that site. We're trying to find other means of helping to pay for it so the taxpayers don't have the full burden. I would like to get the school board into a public meeting so they can tell us why we can't do certain things and what their reasoning is behind it. We really haven't gotten any reasoning behind their thoughts."

Alderman Scottie Ard also indicated her displeasure with how the lack of discussion has led to misunderstanding.

"There's no doubt that this has been discussed at every [meeting] that the library, given its larger size with more services and possibly housing other organizations, would need to have a funding source," Ard said. "This is not new information. But when language is presented that says 'no commercial,' that cuts out the development of a business incubator, that cuts out having open space for artists, music, programs, concerts—it limits us in how we can fund a larger library. Our hands have been essentially tied. It would be wonderful if the school board could embrace the idea that the residents of New Richmond will bear the cost ..."

Mayor Horne indicated he favored the old school site for a number of reason, saying, "if we can work it out with the school board to take ownership for that for $1 and move forward with the library we could start with the fundraising and a new improved, larger library ... It's in our downtown area; it's within walking distance to many things; it would help revitalize the downtown," he said.

It was Alderman Mike Montello who made the motion that the council move ahead with the process of looking at other sites, but after the motion was made and discussion continued, it was decided that the city would be amiss if the old school site was not still considered.

It was then decided that the motion would include language that would include all potential sites, including the old school site.

Ard, who voted for the motion, still had reservations.

"The longer we kick the can down the road, the less of a vision we will have for the library. Yes, I agree the [old school] property is perfect, it's perfectly situated, but with the current demands, with the binds the school board has placed on us, and certainly with the language of an ongoing veto with anything that would happen on that property, it would be arduous going forward."

That's when Zajkowski continued to lobby for a meeting with the school board, whether it be at the school board's upcoming regular monthly meeting or at a separate meeting that could be arranged between both bodies.

"What we really have to do is have something in front of the public so that questions can be asked and answered in front of the public—the citizens of New Richmond and the school district," Zajkowski said. "This library site is going to be for everyone in the school district, not just the city of New Richmond. We're talking $6, $7 or $8 million and I know the school district and the towns aren't going to help us pay for this, so if we can find other things that coincide with the library, why would they want to tie our hands? We still have to look at the site, but would like more public dialog with the school board so the public understands."