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City discusses library site issue

New Richmond Mayor Fred Horne (left) sits alongside Library Board President Jeff Peplau at a joint meeting between the New Richmond City Council and the New Richmond Library Board at the New Richmond Civic Center on Monday, May 19. (Photo by Micheal Foley)

City of New Richmond officials have once again taken up the library building site issue, and the next step will be to meet with the New Richmond School District Board of Education to explore the possibility of acquiring the Community Commons property.

In an exercise intended to bring the Library Board and the City Council together, each alderperson was paired with a Library Board member to visit and research an area library and report findings back to both groups at a joint meeting held Monday, May 19.

Mayor Fred Horne was paired with Library Board President Jeff Peplau, and they led off the meeting with a report about the Menomonie Public Library.

District 6 Alderperson Jim Zajkowski was paired with newly appointed Library Board member William Ruyle to explore the St. Croix Falls Public Library.

District 2 Alderperson Scottie Ard and Library Board member Keith Stuedemann reported on the Hudson Area Library. District 5 Alderperson Ron Volkert and Library Board member Gordon Granroth reported on the Hazel Mackin Community Library in Roberts.

District 4 Alderperson Jane Hansen and Library Board member Andy Hoeppner were tasked with reporting on the Stillwater Public Library. District 1 Alderperson Craig Kittel and Library Board member Liz Kilibarda were teamed with District 3 Alderperson Bobbie Dale-Wozniak, who also serves on the Library Board. They were tasked with finding out about the River Falls Public Library.

“The big thing tonight was just getting people together talking about different libraries, pairing them up and then strategizing next steps,” said City Administrator Mike Darrow after the meeting. “The next step is having a joint meeting with the School Board, the Library Board and the City Council to talk about the framework, concepts, ideas and getting everyone to the table.”

After the presentations, the alderpersons along with Ruyle engaged in a freewheeling discussion touching on topics such as fundraising, grants, forming a steering committee, incorporating museums into the library, parking availability and even possibly razing the former school building at the Community Commons site.

Darrow told the group that the city has scheduled a public hearing for 7 p.m. on Thursday, May 29, about an application for Community Development Block Grant-Public Facilities (CDBG-PF) funds. According to Darrow, the city is eligible to apply for the $500,000 state grant, but the school district is not. He also said the deadline to submit the request is June 2.

Darrow advocated that the city pursue the grant regardless of whether the Commons site is eventually selected as the site for a new city library.

According to the Wisconsin Department of Administration website, the CDBG-PF funds “help support infrastructure and facility projects for communities.” The site lists examples such as “improvements, repairs, or expansions of streets, drainage systems, water and sewer systems, sidewalks, and community centers.”

Aside from an idea to turn the current library into a museum or historical research hub, very little was said about building a library at the current site. Library board members, including Dale-Wozniak, said very little at the meeting. Stuedemann, however, did offer some words to the council.

“As a Library Board member, we don’t have a say of where it’s going to be built,” Stuedemann said. “We can’t negotiate with the School Board on whether or not we can buy property from them. That’s the city’s choice, to buy the property from the School Board. We recommended a site. I think they know the 1926 building is not a viable option. The Library Board probably agreed that there’s a potential to build on that site without the 1926 building.”

More than two months has passed since the contentious March 10 City Council meeting in which the council heard reports from Library Board members, city staff, contractors and consultants, along with input from city residents about where to build a new library.

At that time, the choices were narrowed to two sites: the current library site and the Community Commons site.

The council declined to decide on a site that day, and instead approved a motion 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.”

Now, ideas for the current site are beginning to look less like a full-scale public library and more like a supplemental space, such as a history center, a museum or even a Chamber of Commerce or tourism center.

Those ideas could be fleshed out further sometime next month at a joint meeting of the City Council, School Board and Library Board. That meeting is yet to be scheduled.

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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