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Rushford Library Board architect offers up plans

By Kirsten Zoellner

Mon, Jun 18th, 2012
Posted in Rushford Government

Acting on the council’s last direction to seek out preliminary plans for the renovation of the Tew Memorial Library, the Library Board and architect Val Schute, of River Architects, presented viable options at last Monday’s council meeting. At last direction, the council had insisted that the board seek plans for the upper level of the building only and with a funding level capped at $600,000. That didn’t stop Shute from offering up two potential designs.

“I know I’m testing you, pushing you here, but what I’ve tried to do is to show what some more gets you,” noted Schute. “As an editorial comment, what hits me, and it’s a big deal, is that size of a project is determined by taking the current collection, plus a two percent increase each year for 20 years to allow for growth. The library has become just a repository for books. There’s no room for other pieces that make a present day library,” he continued. “In a twist for me, I’m not sure I was convinced when we began, that we would have a library that made sense. But now, I don’t feel like we forced it. How the library works seems to be logical. I didn’t expect to be saying that.”

Option one includes the renovation of the first floor only of the Tew building. At an estimated $457,000, the plan falls under the limit set two weeks ago by the council. However, it puts the library collection in a pinch. Library Director Susan Hart has indicated, on multiple occasions, that the current collection is 26,367 items. Option one would only allow for 83 percent of that collection, or 21,990 items. Schute specified that the latter figure is a “weeded” number, meaning what remains after select reduction in materials which haven’t been active in circulation. This is typically done only when needed, as Schute noted, but Director Hart goes through the intensive process annually.

“We’ve had to,” Hart stressed. “It’s not easy. What do you get rid of? Shakespeare? Where the Red Fern Grows, just because it hasn’t been checked out recently? In my experience, right after you weed it out, someone needs it. Also, all the materials have been bought by taxpayer dollars. It’s hard to just say, ‘It’s not worth it anymore.’” What’s more, the SELCO inter-library transfers to the Rushford library are not factored into circulation numbers and Rushford both sends and receives a great deal of them.

Option two includes the complete renovation of both the upper and lower floors of the Tew Building, but there are notable differences and upgrades including: one privacy restroom per floor, as opposed to a men’s and women’s in the single floor design, an elevator for ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliance, an added staircase in the south west portion of the building providing a direct route to the lower level, and separate floors for the youth and technology areas and adult, including a bigger staff interface. The second option would also allow for the addition of two quiet study rooms, flexible program areas, and an 18 by 20 foot multi-purpose room which could accommodate between 16 and 30 people, depending on the need. While a two-floor design would require extra staffing on the lower level, Hart expects that this cost can be offset by a partnership with Americorp to provide for the position and the funding needed to pay for it.

Most importantly, the second option, at $810,000, will allow for housing the current collection, plus the ability to grow five percent in the future. Schute professionally recommends option two. “It makes it a working library. It’s a change from a library to a center for the community,” he noted. “My goal is to ask you to consider what an extra $200,000 would get you and to try to get the entire collection into the library. With the second option, you’ll get a barrier-free library and get to keep the entire collection.”

Option one would require approximately four months of construction time, while option two would require six. The component of relocation, which will be required, is not figured into the cost estimates. However, Schute believes he can find an estimate for relocation quickly from other libraries that have had to do the same. Several companies specialize in the service and could bid on the task, should the council move it forward. “These estimates have no fat,” indicated Schute. “It’s cut as tight as I can cut it and still sleep at night.”

Both options were initially met with silence from the council. Councilor Roger Colbenson made motion to table the item for two weeks until Councilor Vern Bunke, who was absent, could be a part of the decision. Councilor Robert Dahl seconded the motion.

During discussion and prior to the vote, both options received praise from Councilor Mark Honsey and Mayor Chris Hallum. “As a council member, I think he should be here,” noted Honsey, “But I have to say, I’m impressed with what you’ve done here and for under a million.”

“I’m shocked,” offered Hallum. “Wow! I’m amazed. I’m really, really impressed. Can we really keep pushing this back more and more?”

The council voted in favor of tabling the issue for two weeks, until the June 25 meeting. Mayor Hallum was opposed. There was some concern from the Library Board as to the assurance of Councilor Bunke’s attendance at the next meeting, when, as one member pointed out, he’d been absent for the last three meetings.

“He’ll be here in two weeks,” responded Administrator Steve Sarvi. “If not, it will be on the agenda anyway.”

“Well, I can make decisions without Mr. Bunke holding my hand,” added Hallum in response to the tabling of the item. The item will be addressed at the next council meeting.

In other news, the council, which met one hour earlier than usual to accommodate the annual audit, was quickly done with the review in just over 40 minutes. Receiving a clean audit, the city had only a few notable issues in the summary from Tom Wente, of Smith Schafer & Associates, Ltd.

“You have one of the more complicated situations,” noted Wente, who took several weeks to complete the audit and report. As with last year’s audit, the amount of funding the city is due to be reimbursed from FEMA for the 2007 flood and the subsequent repairs and upgrades is still an issue, although far less than a year ago. Taking an active stance on pushing FEMA for the reimbursements, the city has claimed $845,000 since last December. Still, it’s awaiting $572,365 in reimbursement from FEMA and the state of Minnesota, from the $1,417,365 noted last year.

A proposed electrical rate increase is in the works and Tom Nigon, of Star Engineering, was on hand with the specifics. Essentially, revenue needs to increase, as wholesale rates continue to climb. In addition, Dairyland Power will now have higher rate in the summer months, which Nigon encouraged the council to also implement to compensate for the change.

“It’s a shuffle game,” said Nigon. “There’s no magic way to get an increase.” The main driving force in higher wholesale rates is environmental impacts. “These changes may not be going away,” he stressed. “Your Rushford Municipal Electric Commision has done a good job to make the right decisions for the utility.” A public hearing for the proposed change is scheduled for June 25.

The next regularly scheduled council meeting is Monday, June 25, at 6:30pm, at city hall. The public is encouraged to attend.

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