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Rushford library decision comes to a head

By Kirsten Zoellner

Mon, Feb 20th, 2012
Posted in Rushford Features

Tensions were high Monday night, as members of the city council discussed the future of a proposed new library within the city. Library Board members and Friends of the Library present at the meeting no doubt wanted to see the council back their plan which has been more than a decade in the making.

“I think it’s important to understand the level of commitment the board has undertaken,” noted City Administrator Steve Sarvi. “The library is quaint, but it’s filled its purpose. We agree we need to do something with the library, but what?”

One option to construct a new library had been scaled down considerably from the original 11,000 sq. ft., $2.2 million facility to a 7,500 sq. ft., $1.7 million structure. The board had been awarded a USDA loan up to a $2.2 million amount, as well as a $250,000 USDA grant through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for the project. In addition, the city was awaiting approval from FEMA of an additional $485,000 in funding as an Alternative Use Project. Some fundraising had also been done by the group for the project with their hopes being a goal of $1.5 million, which could have repaid the USDA loan.

Financial analysis by David Drown and Associates had shown that the city could potentially afford to fund the bond amount for the reduced $1.7 million facility. However, as Administrator Sarvi pointed out, the city is also on the brink of a potential school referendum for a new pre-K – 12 R-P district. Should the district receive the state help it needs, roughly $9 million of the project would be funded by the district which would result in a 17 percent hike in property taxes.

“If you look at together, take it all under consideration,” cautioned Sarvi, “Is it doable for taxpayers to do both projects? I think it would be very difficult to do.”

A second option available to the city to mitigate the library’s issues includes possible relocation and refurbishment. Space studies have been conducted on the current Tews Memorial Building, which currently houses the library, and the now vacant Municipal Liquor Store building, which was completely rebuilt in 2008. The USDA has indicated that the city may use a portion of the loan funds, plus 15 percent of the total loan amount in grant funds, for the refurbishing of the two facilities for the purpose of relocating either city hall or the library.

“Looking at the estimates of cost,” noted Sarvi, “I respectfully believe the community can do this.” Further pressing on the city is the need to give the USDA a decision on the funding as soon as possible. “I’m making a recommendation that if you’re going to reuse the two buildings, the council needs to offer [city staff] us some direction. We, and the Library Board, could do some really good things with those funds.”

“Are we going to build a new library of not?” asked Mayor Chris Hallum. “I just want it said and I want it said tonight. Then, we can move forward.”

Councilor Vern Bunke made a motion to decline the USDA funds. “I think we need to choose an option and learn to fund within our ability,” he stressed. The motion died for lack of second.

Bunke then made motion that the city not entertain plans for a new library and send the funds back. The motion was seconded by Councilor Roger Colbenson.

“Look, we’re finally at a point we can discuss with all our eggs in the basket,” cautioned Councilor Mark Honsey. “I don’t see a new library being built, but this is a chance for the community to finally get together and move forward.”

Speaking of his desire to see the USDA funds refused entirely, Bunke responded, “I think we can be more creative and innovative in how we would fund refurbishing. The Library Board expressed two years ago that they were going to raise the funds [without the city’s help]. We’re going to potentially build a new school and it will include a library that the entire community can use.”

“We went down that road several times,” responded Honsey. “Public and school libraries do not coexist.”

“Several studies have been done. It’s been tried in the state and failed. I’m not going to sit here and pretend that I’m smarter than them,” stressed Mayor Hallum. A vote on the motion concluded with 3-2 vote against.

Councilor Robert Dahl then made a single motion not to construct a new library. It was seconded by Bunke and passed unanimously.

It’s still unclear what the library’s fate is, but all agreed the decision needed to be made quickly and cohesively with the Library Board’s input. The council already knows the Municipal Liquor Store building’s 4,500 sq. ft. are not within the Library Board’s 50-year plan and that the current Tew building presents a whole host of issues. From this point, Sarvi believes enough space studies have been conducted and that the two entities will need to entertain a thorough discussion of the options. It has been arranged for the the city council and the Library Board to hold a joint meeting, Friday, February 17, 5:30pm at city hall, to delve into options for the library’s future.

The next regularly scheduled council meeting is Monday, February 27, at 6:30, at city hall. The public is encouraged to attend.

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