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City, school district unite on Commons site

New Richmond Mayor Fred Horne shakes hands with School Board member Larry Moore following a joint meeting of the New Richmond City Council, the New Richmond School District Board of Education and the New Richmond Library Board at the Community Commons on Monday, June 30. (Photo by Micheal Foley)1 / 2
Members of the New Richmond School Board, the New Richmond Library Board and the New Richmond City Council held a joint meeting at the Community Commons on Monday, June 30, to discuss using the Commons site for a new city library. (Photo by Micheal Foley)2 / 2

It is beginning to look more likely that a new city library could be built at the Community Commons site in New Richmond.

During a historic joint meeting of three local governmental bodies held at the Community Commons on Monday, June 30, the New Richmond City Council and the New Richmond School District each approved resolutions to commit to work together to explore the possibilities of developing the Community Commons site in a way that includes space for a new library as well as the various Commons partners. The meeting included quorums of the City Council, the New Richmond School District Board of Education and the New Richmond Library Board.

At the outset of the meeting, New Richmond School District Administrator Jeff Moberg explained the purpose and the scope of the meeting.

“We thought a really good first step in the planning process would be to bring all the different entities that have a role or stake in the facility and have a joint meeting on moving forward with what could be here,” Moberg said. “Our intent with this meeting is to keep things at a very high level and talk about possibilities for use and come up with a process at the end where we really explore every option, every want, every consideration for what could be here, how it might look, and start to put costs and dollars behind those so that we can go into the fall with a recommendation from the sub-group from all of our groups here.”

Later in the meeting, Moberg explained that one of the School Board’s goals is to create sustainability within the Community Commons. That sustainability could be in question when the district’s lease with WITC ends on Aug. 1.

“That is a portion of rental income that we need to look to recoup in some way, shape or form,” Moberg said.

Moberg said the sustainability of the Community Commons would include the organization’s operational budget, long-term maintenance costs and long-term reinvestment.

New Richmond City Administrator Mike Darrow offered insight on the city’s perspective, underscoring the 15 years of discussions and study to determine where a new library will be built.

“Part of the purpose of tonight is not to get down into the details of how it would look, but to really just have a conversation of if it could take place here within this site area,” Darrow said.

Friday Memorial Library Director Kim Hennings formally outlined the conditions previously set forth by the Library Board, which include the following:

— The library site is owned and maintained by the city.

— The library site is clean, with a space for free-standing new construction.

— The library would require a formal agreement between partners if a new shared space is considered.

— The Commons site is accessible and visible.

— The city determines use for the existing library building (Friday site) consistent with deed restrictions. The city maintains or demolishes the building.

— The city establishes a funding amount/commitment for the city share of library construction including consideration to future operational and capital costs, and anticipated level of other funding — grants, donations, sponsorships of spaces, and other revenue sources including borrowed and impact fees.

— The Library Board recommends the library design be developed and approved by library staff and Library Board consistent with the project budget.

After a bit of back-and-forth discussion, New Richmond Mayor Fred Horne asked the School Board for an up-or-down vote so the city can confidently pursue building a library at the site.

“We always talked about this and assumed the School Board would approve this. We assumed the City Council would do the same. But this is the next step,” Horne said.

Library Board President Jeff Peplau expressed concern over whether the 1926 portion of the Community Commons building would be repurposed into a library, and Horne quickly assured him that it wouldn’t be.

“I have accepted that the library will not be in the 1926 building, but there may be other purposes for it” Horne said.

After searching his notes for a resolution previously approved by his board, School Board President Richard Hinz moved to support the redevelopment of the Community Commons site for use of a library, which the board approved.

District 6 Alderman Jim Zajkowski wasted no time in immediately moving for the city to pursue the Commons site as a potential library, and his motion was swiftly approved.

With both the City Council and the School Board in agreement, Darrow presented a memo outlining a potential pre-project development charrette for the entire Commons site. Darrow’s plan included assembling a team of no more than 12 with representatives from each stakeholder group to meet with a professional facilitator over a three-day period to develop a shared vision and three preliminary site concept layouts for the project site. The proposal also included a community discussion to gather feedback.

The City Council and the School Board informally agreed to split the cost of the facilitator, up to $12,500.

Darrow suggested that the process get started right away with himself, Moberg and Hennings acting as contacts for each of the governmental bodies to discuss further steps.

Micheal Foley
Micheal Foley worked at RiverTown Multimedia from July 2013 to June 2015 as editor at the New Richmond News. 
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