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City, school, library officials to meet about Commons site

A portion of the Community Commons building originally built in 1926 to serve as a high school is in sore need of expensive repairs. Some favor demolishing it altogether. (Photo by Jenny Hudalla)

The push to build a new library in New Richmond appears to be picking up steam again.

The New Richmond City Council will meet with the city’s Library Board and the New Richmond School District Board of Education at 6 p.m. on Monday, June 30, at the Community Commons (421 S. Green Ave.) to discuss the possibility of building a new city library at the Community Commons site.

During its special meeting on Monday, June 23, the council discussed its plan for the joint meeting. City Administrator Mike Darrow said he put it on the agenda to help the council understand “what the agenda is and what it isn’t.”

“The Library Board has had their meeting and they’re meeting tomorrow. The School Board met last week or the week before to kind of talk about where they’re going,” Darrow said. “I guess I felt it was important to put this on so there’s a better understanding of what the expectations are and what the next steps are.”

Items on the June 30 meeting agenda include the following:

— Project overview and meeting purpose

— Considerations and non-negotiable items

— Funding and collaboration updates

— Considerations of Commons area building and lot

— Formal considerations and approval

— Community conversation design charrette process/RFQ

Darrow emphasized to the council that first item on the agenda — project overview and meeting purpose — was key to setting up the group for a positive meeting that can help move a potential library project forward.

“The understanding was to talk about the entire site from a larger scale and higher elevation,” Darrow said. “It’s not to necessarily get down into the details of what the building is going to look like and who the architect is going to be. It’s really to see if there’s movement to have the library located on that site. We don’t know yet what the square footage would be, where it would be or how it would look. Let’s first start at that point to see if there’s interest. Beyond that, I think that’s where the meeting starts and ends.”

Darrow then moved on to explain the second agenda item — considerations and non-negotiable items. He again urged the council to stay on task and not get bogged down into project details during this portion of the meeting. He said that portion of the meeting isn’t intended to debate the merits of keeping or razing the 1926 portion of the building, or what the specific costs are. Darrow said it’s the council’s chance to identify items the discussion shouldn’t be about.

At its May 27 meeting, the Library Board approved a document outlining its list of seven recommendations as Library Director Kimberly Hennings asked the group to detail its non-negotiable items.

“I really want a clean document that outlines if you’re going to support the Commons site, this is what has to take place,” Hennings said. “The last thing I want to do is get to a meeting and say, ‘no, that’s a deal breaker.’ I want all the deal breakers laid out now.”

The conditions detailed in the Library Board recommendation 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.

The Library Board was scheduled to discuss the topic again at its June 24 meeting.

The third item on the June 30 meeting agenda is funding and collaboration updates, which Darrow said could include information on whether the city was approved for $500,000 through the Community Development Block Grant-Public Facilities Program if the information is available by then.

Darrow said that if the joint meeting members come to a consensus that the new library can be built at the Commons site, then discussions can move toward considerations of the building and the property it sits on, and a process to begin design work can begin.

“If the discussion is that we can see the library being within the site, one thought is to have — not an architect, but more of a very quick meeting — a three-day design charette.”

Even the charette isn’t meant to dive into the fine details of the library design, but instead paint broad strokes of what the entire site could look like.

Darrow emphasized that first the group must come to an agreement on whether the library could be located at the Commons site before thinking ahead to the possible design charette.

“We need to say yea or nay on the library site, and if it’s yea, then we go to the next step and get more input,” Darrow said.

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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