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City awarded $500,000 grant

The Community Commons site currently houses many groups, including Community Education, VFW Post 10818 and the Five Loaves Food Shelf and Clothing Center. City Administrator Mike Darrow sees the site as a location full of possibilities and a great site to create synergy between many groups in New Richmond. (Photo by Mike Demulling)

On Monday, Aug. 11, the City of New Richmond was informed by letter 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.

“We were really excited to find out the news that we had been awarded that grant and we made sure to let the school board and the council know right away,” said City Administrator Mike Darrow. “We were really delighted to get the grant and I think it is a great opportunity to do some next steps here. The acceptance of the grant will be put on the council’s agenda for the next formal meeting.”

The city has 30 days, from Aug. 8, to sign and return the Acceptance of Award document to the Division of Housing. After accepting the grant, the city will be contacted by a representative of the DOH to further discuss the terms and conditions of the grant, as well as the compliance requirements that must be addressed before construction on the project can begin.

“The unique thing about this is that it fits within the timeline of the pre-design charrette we are going to be doing with all the groups involved,” Darrow said. “That’s what is really exciting since the timing of this will allow us to complete a public process.”

According to Darrow, the city will have 60 to 90 days to come up with a plan for the rehabilitation project after the grant is accepted.

“How these things run is that we have 30 days to get it approved, which is really a formality, but you don’t have to have the whole project scope done at that time,” Darrow said. “Once this is signed we will have approximately 60 to 90 days to figure out how the funds will get used and what the project outlines will be.”

To help the charrette, which is being formed to tackle the Commons rehab project, the city accepted applications via a request for qualifications to hire an inde­pendent facilitator to lead the charrette group and find out what the site might look like. The city, the library and the school district provided recommendations on interested firms. Darrow expected around five or six applications to be filed and that the process would be done in 60 days.

“In 60 days, I could say we basically have $1 million in money for the library and we have $500,000 in grants, and we haven’t even started one ounce of fundraising for this project,” Darrow said. “We won’t actually have a contract until October or November, but then the community will know specifically how these funds will be used. So I think we are in good shape.”

During a joint meeting 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 spaces for a new city 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.

“We don’t know how the funds will be used. They could be used for a multi-purpose building or something different,” Darrow said. “I don’t think we are approaching it as ‘If the library isn’t here, we aren’t going to use these funds here.’ That conversation has already occurred and there is the momentum to say that now the library is going to happen within the context of the Commons site.”

According to Darrow, most of the groups involved with the Community Commons project, including the Government Entities Network (GEN), the Library Board, the School Board and the Commons partners, have already appointed their members who will be part of a charrette. The purpose of the charrette is to work on the stakeholder and community pre-project site concept development process for the Community Commons and public library. The group will put a considerable emphasis on developing a strong vision that can be shared by a diverse range of stakeholders, which will be fundamental to building and maintaining momentum throughout the project. Darrow hopes that the group can hold its first meeting in September.

“I think the key to the charrette is having a trusted facilitator that can help guide the group so it is not the city’s person or the library’s person,” Darrow said. “The key attribute for that team is going to be having good listeners and then develop a plan based on what they are hearing.”

The following individuals will represent their specific entity on the charrette group: Scottie Ard and Jim Zajkowski, city; Bill Ruyle and Gordon Granroth, library; Gary Knutson and Dick Hesselink, GEN; Marty Wold and Larry Moore, school; Morrie Veilleux and Cheryl Emerson, Commons.

Along with the charrette, Darrow said there are plans to hold a three-day public process to gather information from the community as to what things citizens would like to see the Commons site be used as and what ideas they might have as how to use the space.

“In the proposal, we said we would like to have a threeday public process to kind of gauge an interest and determine what the community would like,” Darrow said. “It won’t be a long, drawn out process because we will get in, get the communities’ understanding and let them share their ideas, then bring it back to the various stakeholders for a final decision.”

For Darrow, the most exciting part of the Commons project moving forward is the opportunity it will offer to create something special in the City of New Richmond.

“The exciting piece of this is that you have multi-tenants, from veterans to Head Start to potentially a library, and having all of these different players involved really creates a lot of synergy,” Darrow said. “What that project looks like is ultimately the community’s decision.”

Above all else, Darrow hopes the charrette group and the community will focus on the rehab project as being more than just a library project.

“We are all in this project together and we kind of have to walk in harmony of one another, allowing feedback and those types of things,” Darrow said. “The city, even though they have the final say in the project, needs to work with all these other partners to look at this project as more than just a library project and see it as more of a community project.”

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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