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Coalition presents broad vision for Commons property; input sought

Cindy McCleary of the Leo A Daly architecture firm delivers a presentation during the public open house at the Community Commons on Thursday, Nov. 6. McCleary presented a broad vision for the future of the Commons property and the public is invited to provide input. (Photo by Micheal Foley) 1 / 3
Local attorney Gary Bakke was among those who voiced support for the broad vision proposed for the future of the Community Commons during a public open house held Thursday, Nov. 6. (Photo by Micheal Foley) 2 / 3
Community members take a look inside an old classroom while touring the old middle school following a Community Commons open house on Thursday, Nov. 6. (Photo by Micheal Foley)3 / 3

More than 75 community members turned out at the Community Commons for a presentation and open house on Thursday, Nov. 6, and were asked whether they would support a building project that may include a library on the site along with space for New Richmond School District Community Education and Commons partners including CESA 11 Head Start, Five Loaves Food Shelf and Thrift Store, VFW Post 10818 and the New Richmond Senior Center.

Leo A Daly facilitator Cindy McCleary delivered the bulk of the presentation with help from New Richmond School District Superintendent Jeff Moberg, Friday Memorial Library Director Kimberly Hennings, City Administrator Mike Darrow and Morrie Veilleux, who represented the Commons partners.

Moberg explained that the Commons property, formerly New Richmond Middle School, is still owned by the school district while the Commons partners have been leasing some of the space.

“Part of what we’ve been trying to do is find a way to make this Commons partnership a sustainable partnership that can carry on and be supported financially within the space we have here,” Moberg said. 

In pursuit of a solution to that problem along with the possibility of serving as a site for a new community library, the New Richmond City Council, the New Richmond School District Board of Education and the New Richmond Library Board agreed back on June 30 to collaborate in a pre-project development charrette.

In three meetings over the course of a few months, key group stakeholders and Commons partners met with facilitators from Leo A Daly to hash out a common vision that each stakeholder and partner could support.

Moberg said the experience was enjoyable and positive. Darrow echoed his sentiment.

“I think for me personally, this process in the last couple months has been amazing,” Darrow said. “For me what’s been really exciting is bringing people together — maybe for the first time. To get all these folks into one room to look at different concepts of a long-range vision of a community center is pretty powerful.”

Hennings explained that the library has been seeking a site for a new library for several years and shared the story of a little boy who couldn’t afford the cost of a subscription fee at his local library. She said that little boy turned out to be industrialist Andrew Carnegie who used the fortune he amassed to build libraries in communities across the nation.

“One of the libraries he built in his home state of Pennsylvania was not only a public library open to everyone, but also a pool, a fitness center and a community hub,” Hennings said. “He was a visionary, not only for libraries, but for communities. We as a community have the opportunity to come together and have a shared vision for this site not only for the library, but for all these wonderful entities. It’s really great that we’ve all come together and you’re here to share input.”

Veilleux, who served as superintendent before Moberg, explained a bit of the history behind the property and how it came to be the current home for multiple nonprofit entities. He invited Jim Heebink of VFW Post 10818, Heidi Herron of the Five Loaves Food Shelf and Thrift Store, and Cheryl Emerson of Community Education to share some heartfelt stories about the synergies their different groups have experienced around each other in the building.

McCleary then explained the charrette process used to bring the various groups together, including some rules of engagement they followed to keep discussions on topic. She also explained that maintaining the status quo was not an option at the site, because there is more square footage to maintain than can be financially supported under the current arrangement.

McCleary then presented the charrette’s central tenets that made the case for the site providing “a visionary opportunity to become a central element in serving the community for the next 100 years.”

At that point, McCleary unveiled four extremely rough concepts that the charrette group used to test whether the vision was possible at the site. The purpose of including them in the presentation wasn’t to gather feedback from the public about which one they like best, but rather to show that the charrette considered multiple ideas ranging from keeping the building just as it is all the way to razing the entire site and building new from scratch.

During a public comment portion of the meeting, McCleary fielded questions from the public that ranged from strong support for a library at the site to questions about moving city hall offices to the site to opposition to such a grand government facility with private tenants.

Local attorney Gary Bakke voiced his support for the vision calling property “key to the future of New Richmond.”

“We have a group of leaders who are visionaries,” Bakke said. “They’re thinking about a very important part of our future. They don’t all have the same vision, but they’re debating it. They’re working on it. They deserve our support.”

For those who were unable to attend last week’s open house, the presentation was recorded to air on community access TV. Check for a links to the presentation video and resources for providig input on the Community Commons vision. 

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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