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Council tables library site issue

More than 100 people crammed into the council chamber at the New Richmond Civic Center on Monday, March 10, for a host of presentations and a community forum about where to build a new library. (Photo by Micheal Foley)1 / 3
Community members view pre-design concepts for a new community library during a social hour before a City Council meeting on the topic of where the city should build such a facility. (Photo by Micheal Foley)2 / 3
Community members line up to address council members about the site for a new library during the public comment portion of the Monday, March 10, New Richmond City Council meeting. (Photo by Micheal Foley)3 / 3

The City of New Richmond has been exploring possibilities of building a new library for more than a decade, and it’ll be a while longer before a decision is made on where to build it.

After hundreds of hours put in on reports by Library Board members, city staff, contractors and consultants, and input from city residents, the New Richmond City Council still didn’t have enough information to decide whether to build a new library at the site of the Friday Memorial Library or the Community Commons.

The council voted 5-1 at its meeting Monday night to table the library site issue until more information on estimated costs for both sites could be calculated.

Two alderpersons, however, appeared to have enough information to make a decision. District 6 Alderman James Zajkowski and District 3 Alderwoman Roberta Dale-Wozniak both felt comfortable enough to make motions to approve the site of their choice, but both were defeated.

Council discussion

Dale-Wozniak, who also serves on the city’s Library Board, first moved to approve building at the site of the current library, and the motion was seconded by District 1 Alderman Craig Kittel.

Dale-Wozniak asked staff to imagine giving directions to someone coming from the new St. Croix Crossing to the new library.

“Would you like to tell them, go across the bridge over the Willow River, look to your left, there’s a park, and the brand new library is right there. You can’t miss it,” Dale-Wozniak said. “Or would you like to say, keep on going downtown, take a left at the auto parts store or the post office, and then it’s back off, sort of to the southeast of the ambulance garage. So just park there and you’ll find it. That’s not my vision of the future.”

Dale-Wozniak also pointed to the community vote tallies, which showed 394 votes in favor of the current library site versus just 198 in favor of the Community Commons site.

She also made the case that of the five options presented by architect firm Cuningham Group, the current library site was the least costly option — at an estimated $4.7 million.

That cost estimate was challenged by Mayor Fred Horne, who asked City Administrator Mike Darrow to present information on the costs for each option.

“Our assumptions are that we don’t know what the cost is,” Darrow said. “Is the cost of the current site $4.7 million? I can’t look you in the eyes and say, ‘yes it is.’”

At that point, Dale-Wozniak and Zajkowski engaged in a heated exchange in which Zajkowski tallied his own estimated cost for the current site at $6.8 million. District 4 Alderwoman Jane Hansen chimed in with her own estimate of $7.6 million, which included buying nearby homes and demolishing them to build parking lots.

Numbers presented by Cuningham Group in spring 2013 showed an estimated cost of $4.7 million, but the contractor apparently sent new information to city staff that didn’t make it into the staff’s memo to the council.

Kittel attempted to calm the waters by telling a story about his involvement with the Park Board’s efforts to bring more ballfields to the community. He said that even though the work he and other board members put in on their preferred site didn’t pan out, he made the best of it and embraced building new fields at Freedom Park.

Dale-Wozniak’s motion was voted down 5-1, and Zajkowski then moved to build at the Community Commons site, but his motion died for a lack of a second.

District 2 Alderwoman Scottie Ard then moved to “look for further information on both sites, that we have greater access to information regarding the proposed costs and that those are evaluated by our City Council, the Library Board and members of staff, and that the community be invited to those also so they are getting a firsthand look at exactly what each has to offer and does not.”

Ard’s motion was approved by a 5-1 vote with Dale-Wozniak dissenting.

Reports and analysis

The council’s 30-minute discussion came after nearly 90 minutes of reports from Darrow, Library Director Kim Hennings, Cuningham Group’s Chad Clow, city planning consultant Dan Licht and more than 30 minutes of public comments from a total of 13 community members in the audience.

Hennings reported on the need for a new library to be built, regardless of site, along with a strong recommendation from the Library Board to build on the current site.

Clow’s presentation detailed each of five pre-design concepts for a new library. One concept was presented for the current library site, and four concepts were presented for the Community Commons site. Each of the concepts were presented previously at a Commons Group meeting, and the city solicited public input from the community on the concepts.

Licht presented detailed information about both sites from a site analysis and plan review. His presentation including analyses of zoning, surrounding land uses, lot requirements, building coverage, impervious surface area, building height, pedestrian access, vehicle access and circulation, emergency service vehicle issues, parking, landscaping, stormwater management, utilities, trash and expansion potential.

“City staff has identified no red flags on either site,” Licht said. “And it basically becomes a community preference issue on which site to move forward with.”

Citizen comments

After the reports, 13 community members addressed the council during a public comment period in which each person got three minutes to speak.

Among the citizens who offered their opinions were longtime Library Board President Jeff Peplau, 11-year-old Katey Eickhoff and her mother Julie, and Nanette Noland, Jerry Pults, Brandon Gess, Jim Drill, Lorraine Hess, Edna Grotjahn Early, Wayne Tubbs, Tim O’Brien, Davyann Lee and Michele Hermansen.

The community members presented a variety of opinions, including the need for a new library, where it should be built, what should be done with the Friday Library building, neighborhood concerns and more. In all, six citizens speakers favored the current site, two favored the Commons site, and five expressed opinions without regard to site.

What’s next

Ard’s motion to seek further information on estimated costs for each site was approved by the council, but it didn’t include what that information should be, and no timetable was given for followup.

Clearly frustrated after the meeting, Dale-Wozniak was at a loss when trying to figure out where the Library Board will go from here.

“When they say ‘compare apples to apples,’ I don’t know which apples they’re talking about,” Dale-Wozniak said. “We had the architects and engineers already provide us with numbers for the various options. So, I think they just have to specify exactly what two things they want to compare apples to apples. Then, I assume we’re going to have to hire more people at greater expense to figure all this out, because I do not know if city staff have the expertise to create those numbers on their own.”

Ard, however, is looking for more community input before deciding on a site.

“I’m looking for a larger number than 324 persons,” Ard said. “This is a city of 8,500. We have a school district of 21,000. I want to hear from not just New Richmond — we will bear a cost — but those townships will bear a cost also, and I haven’t heard from them yet.”

Hansen said she would like to see costs associated with buying up neighboring homes as part of the concept options before deciding on a site.

Meanwhile, as a member of the Library Board for the past 14 years, 12 as president, Peplau said he has been discussing building a new community library since his first meeting.

“At some point you have to make a decision, and we’ve got a whole book that’s about two inches thick that’s got all the information that’s needed to make a decision,” Peplau said. “The public is strongly behind our current site, and I don’t think we have support at the other site — and I think it would be too costly.”

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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