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Library seeks parameters from Rushford

By Kirsten Zoellner

Mon, Mar 19th, 2012
Posted in Rushford All

The tension between the city council and the library board continues, despite both sides calling for open communication of positive action. The council had voted unanimously February 13 to cease plans to construct a new library downtown. Two weeks later, the council passed a second decision to move city hall out of the facility it shares with the library and to confine the library to the current Tews Memorial building.

Speaking on behalf of the library board, Jim O’Donnell addressed the council. “We are here this evening to address our concerns. The parameters set in the agenda statement clearly limit the library in our mission to acquire the space needed for the future of the Rushford Public Library. We feel that spending money on a wrong plan lacks vision and is never the right thing to do. We have been patient and studious in the planning and study of the library’s needs. If this is the direction that the council wishes to pursue, we the Library Board respectfully withdraw from any consideration to build or remodel until a more appropriate time that fits the community vision.”

The agenda had called for a recommendation from the building project subcommittee regarding setting guidelines for the Library Board and determining financing options.

“Where do we go from here?” asked Mayor Chris Hallum.

“It is a waste of taxpayer money to put money into this building,” continued O’Donnell. “It doesn’t fit our vision for the future and it doesn’t fit our space needs. It would be a fruitless project and not in the best interest of the community. The compromise is, we’re going to end up getting this space, which doesn’t fit our needs, you’re going to limit us on what we can spend and limit us to what we can expand.”

The decision that O’Donnell refers is addendum “c” of Councilor Vern Bunke’s motion February 27, which limits the library to the existing footprint of the Tews building until appropriate funding can be put in place for a possible expansion. According to City Administrator Steve Sarvi, it’s likely that the city could use $475,000 in FEMA funding, which had originally been designated for the community center, for an expansion of the Tews building. The money would need to be preapproved by FEMA prior to construction and the city would only be able to seek reimbursement for the cost, rather than receiving an immediate draw down on funds during construction.

“You’re not going to be able to fundraise for this building,” responded a clearly frustrated O’Donnell. “We’ve already lost $100,000 in donations that was earmarked for a new library. It’s going to be expensive. We weren’t invited into this subcommittee meeting. Why?”

“The building project meeting was a subcommittee of the council. You’re hear now to discuss the parameters of the project,” responded Sarvi.

“This was your third best option,” added Hallum, referring to the board’s written recommendation that highlighted as the Tews Building as its third best option, of five. However, the board’s decision for the building came only if including an expansion to the existing footprint of the facility.

“What are the parameters?” asked O’Donnell. “What do you want us to do? It’s this space, that’s it. The council will say, ‘This is your space. Be happy with it.’”

“I encourage you to dream and tell the architect what you need,” responded Councilor Bunke. “This space can be used creatively. It could be better than it is now. Get creative. It might not be as bad as you think.”

“A square foot is a square foot,” countered O’Donnell. “You’re going to put $800,000 in a 1920s building?” The monetary reference is that of a possible ballpark figure between consultant Mike Bubany’s financial planning model and architect Jose Rivas’s estimate for facility upgrade costs.

“This is the direction that we’ve been given,” noted Sarvi. “So, how do we make it work?”

“We’re giving you a building and dollars,” added Councilor Mark Honsey. “What you do with it is up to you. No one doubts the library board’s efforts or vision. We weren’t trying to step on your toes. Our intent was to get the city out of the way. We were trying to do something positive.”

“Our main concern,” responded O’Donnell, “whatever we do to this building, we’ll be stuck here for the next hundred years. Just like you, we want to do it right.”

“I suggest clarity from the council, as to parameters,” recommended Sarvi. “There’s so much angst for a project that should be bringing the community together. You can choose to view it as a limitation or you can say this is what we’re going to do with it. The parameters come first though; otherwise you’re going to plan something that they won’t approve.”

As discussion continued, several hot button topics and recent statements were addressed, including whether or not the community is behind the project, fundraising efforts, and Councilor Bunke’s reference to the use of the vacant and still unfinished community center as “ludicrous.”

“I think the city needs economic development. We need to develop a lot more economic strength. Using the building as a business incubator or selling it are both options being explored,” Bunke responded. “Does Rushford deserve a new library? Yes. Can we afford it right now? No.”

An analysis study on what it would take to actually upgrade the current library facility, as it stands, with no expansion, would need to be done. However, the footprint of the Tews building is 3,500 square feet. In order to be compliant with state code (Americans with Disabilities Act), and to accommodate the library’s 27,000 items, the building would need a minimum of 4,500 square feet.

The library board will continue to search for options, while waiting for specific parameters from the city.

In other news, the city has received bids for up to four electrical projects. The first two projects are in relation to the FEMA recertification of the levee system and are required. They total $643,341, of which $636,000 the city has already bonded for. The city portion is not to exceed the bonded amount.

The second two projects were bid on recommendation from the Rushford Municipal Electrical Commission and come with price tags of $73,000 and $18,500 respectively and are upgrades to the system.

Additional DNR funds and FEMA funding assistance may also be available. The four bids will be paid on unit rather than as a whole, so the city may decide to complete only the required portions if funding is limited.

The next regularly scheduled council meeting is Monday, March 26, at 6:30pm, at city hall. The public is encouraged to attend.

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