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Commons Coalition holds first meeting

Leo A Daley employees Cindy McCleary (left) and Joe Bower discuss what the “Rule of Engagements” are for the Commons Coalition which met for the first time on Thursday, Sept. 18, in the Community Commons media center. (Photo by Jordan Willi)

During its first organized meeting, the Community Commons Pre-Project Planning Charrette Committee, also known as the Commons Coalition, meet with Leo A Daley facilitators Cindy McCleary, market sector leader for regional government, and Joe Bower, senior architect.

“Most of this meeting is meant to allow us to hear from you all and facilitating a conversation about the vision for the individual groups, the vision for the facility and the reality as well as what you are asking of the larger stakeholder group,” McCleary said. “We want to be able to provide them with a great understanding of the amount of input you want from them, where they have input and how they have a role in deciding the future of the facility in the community.”

With those ideas in mind, the group spent more than two hours coming up with ideas, outlining parameters for the type of information they wish to obtain from the stakeholders at the group’s next meeting in October, what the vision for the new facility might be and what things might be deal breakers for the groups involved.

Committee members present at the Sept. 18 meeting included: City Council members Scottie Ard and Craig Kittle (filling in the absent Jim Zajkowski); City Administrator Mike Darrow representing the City of New Richmond; Library Board members Bill Ruyle and Gordon Granroth and library director Kim Hennings representing the Friday Memorial Library; Cheri Jacobsen representing CESA 11; Scott Counter (filling in for GEN members Gary Knutson and Dick Hesselink) representing the GEN Group; New Richmond School Board members Marty Wold and Larry Moore as well as District Administrator Jeff Moberg; and Morrie Veilleux and Director of Community Education Cheryl Emerson representing the Community Commons.

On Aug. 11, the City of New Richmond was informed that it was being awarded a $500,000 Community Development Block Grant for its public facilities project of rehabilitating the Community Commons property. The grant comes from the Wisconsin Department of Administration Division of Housing. The city has since accepted the grant and meeting with the facilitators from Leo A Daley is part of the steps the city must take in order to receive the money.

To start the meeting off, McCleary split the group to discuss their “rules of engagement,” and what things were most important to the members present. Among the items the group touched on were: a need to focus on what works, while being positive and practical; understanding that the meetings and discussions are not about winning, but rather making sure to contribute to the discussion; being able to persevere through the project and not give up if things get tough; and working together to come to the best solution possible.

Following the discussion on the “rules of engagement,” the group listed off the reasons for why they were there, both a philosophical standpoint and a facility/space challenges viewpoint. Under the philosophical header, members of the coalition came up with questions about what the parcel of land might look like, whether or not the current building would continue to be standing or be torn down and, possibly most importantly, how to obtain financial sustainability. When it came to the facility itself, members talked about the space needs of the library, if they were to relocate, and the rest of the Commons stakeholders; parking and what the impact of the new or remodeled facility might have on the surrounding neighborhood and in the region.

When the facilitators moved the group onto the “vision” portion of the meeting, it was clear that members had many different views on what the new space would look like and what functions it would serve within the community.

On the minimum side of the scale, members discussed everything from the current space needs of the partners to planning for future growth of the community and the current partners who use the facility.

When it came to the maximum, the views of the group varied even more, with suggestions involving trying to make the facility or new building a green space, demolishing the building and starting from scratch, creating a destination for people inside and outside the community and preserving the current building. Another suggested maximum vision was creating more visibility and accessibility for the Community Commons as well as creating a brand for the facility.

One of the final topics the group hit on was the question of what the group was asking the stakeholders to supply them during the next meeting. The questions that made it onto the list included: What do you need for space?; can this place support your future?; are there other entities that can find a purpose in this space?; is this the right place for you?; and as a resident, are you open to investing in the new or remodeled facility?

After discussing the questions, the facilitators asked the assembled committee for solutions to make the meetings and the Commons Coalition a success. Members of the group suggested giving the community a chance to weigh in and letting the group know what their level of commitment to the project might be.

As the meeting came to an end, McCleary and Bower asked the assembled committee what might be deal breakers in making the Community Commons work. Ideas thrown out there were whether or not the status quo is an option, or if it is what it best for the community, and whether or not the future space will have the appropriate expandability to allow for the needs of the community and the Commons Partners needs in the future.

“The result of this process isn’t to walk out of these meetings later this year and have blueprints ready to go, but I think we are supposed to use this process to get a needs assessment from the Commons Partners, school and other potential partners and possibly end up with something between what they call a ‘bubble map’ and blueprints,” Moberg said. “From there we would look at what the next steps are and get the community to engage in the process.”

The next meeting for the Commons Coalition is scheduled for Oct. 14, from 4-8 p.m. The group will hear from all the stakeholders of the Community Commons as well as the library and a few other groups who might have an interest in becoming part of the facility in the future.

The last charrette meeting will be on Nov. 6 and the community will get a 45-day period for public comment on the ideas and possible solutions the coalition comes up with before a formal vote is taken, which could take place by the end of the year, according to Darrow.

Jordan Willi
Jordan Willi is a reporter for the New Richmond News. Previously, he worked as a sports reporter at the Worthington Daily Globe in Worthington, Minnesota. He also interned at the Hudson Star Observer for two summers and contributed to the Bison Illustrated sports magazine at North Dakota State University.
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