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Rushford City Council moves forward with City Center Project

Fri, Aug 28th, 2009
Posted in Government

A presentation by the well-organized library board and its lead architect, Val Schute of River Architects, was the big event at the Monday, August 24, city council meeting. It was intended to ascertain the council's commitment in moving forward with the construction of a new, jointly developed public library and city hall facility.

Through some "rearrangement," the preliminary design showcases a 16,672 square foot facility on a 100x150 foot parcel located downtown at the corner of Mill and Park Streets. Several variations have been designed, but the council was presented with plans of the most comprehensive in addressing the needs while maintaining the smallest footprint on the site.

While the city has previously been in discussion with two property owners to the immediate south and west of the site, they did not want to "hold the library hostage" and plans put forth were set by code using only the city-owned parcel. When asked how the preliminary plans would change should the other parcels become available, Schute replied, "Not much. We would still maintain it as expansion (space)."

Because a building cannot be developed based on a shifting occupancy number, the plans were developed to meet the code as if both floors were at maximum occupancy. Also included in the plan is a 2 percent per year allowance for growth over the next 20 years, which Schute noted seems to be the standardized number for most facilities. It was noted that "ground is a premium at this site." With that in mind, the architects have created a conceptual plan which will set the community destination apart from others.

From the entrance, the design calls for what Schute has dubbed, an "essential lobby experience." It would allow either city hall or the library to open and close independently while the shared space remains open. The plan also dictates "pockets for age separation," which are impossible at the bursting-at-the-seams current facility, and a reading area with the option for a small coffee shop area, similar to what's offered at commercial bookstores. Finishing out some of the library features are much coveted seating, both indoors and out, a scheme that blends historic architectural details into the downtown area, and an attempt to "eek out" as much green space as possible. The building could be considered a green facility, maximizing square footage, green space, operating needs, and the elements. Of course, the final plan is subject to change.

Detailed in a spreadsheet were some early numbers for the project. Raw construction costs (facility only) were estimated at $2.8 million, although Schute was quick to note that with the current reconfiguration, after "running it through the dryer cycle," the cost would be closer to $2.2 million.

The potential project total, per the current preliminary numbers, hovers around $3.4 million. A substantial amount, $1.2 million, would be raised by the Library Capital Fund Drive, currently in cooperation with Crescendo, a professional fundraising group. $617,800 in funds would come courtesy of a DEED (Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development) Grant and Match. $840,000 would be funded by a USDA grant and an additional $360,000 by a 40-year, extremely low rated, USDA loan. This leaves "a challenge" of approximately $469,820 in needed project funds. The city acknowledged that they don't know where they'll find the last portion, whether through another source or more monetary "shrinking."

Councilor Nancy Benson, an obvious supporter of the project, mentioned the potential use of city FEMA funds from the former "Dreaming Horses" facility. The funds would exceed the last portion of the amount needed for the project. "I can see no better place than in this project in our community. This project is a great service to our community." The city is seeking other grants and funds to pay for its portion of the joint facility. The obvious goal for the entire project is no debt service.

Schute concluded, "It was our goal to develop an idea, driven by a need. It's a solution."

Benson praised the solution. "We desperately need this for our community."

The board voted unanimously to move forward with its commitment and plans for a two-story facility.

Electric Rate Increase

In an effort to pull the electric fund out of the red in a "responsible manner," the Rushford Municipal Electric Commission has recommended the implementation of a revised electric rate schedule. The schedule will not be structured for profit, but rather for system costs. There will be a "zero net income" approach for the year of study and a minimum rate increase of $.0025 per kWh for all rate classes. The overall rate increase of approximately 10.95 percent is designed to produce the theoretical "zero" annual net income.

There will be a public hearing on the revised rate schedule, at the earliest, September 14th. If the new rates are adopted, they will be effective September 1st, being billable in October.

Banquet Center

Moving forward in the request for proposals for a 400-seat community center, the council stressed that it wanted to show Rushford as a growing community and business center. The well-thought proposal language is intended to point potential developers to a comprehensive plan with a long-range vision of the community.

The preliminary proposal lists major elements of the center that will include, but are not limited to, 4,600 square feet of open convention space. This space will have the ability to be subdivided into three separate areas, the largest being 2,300 square feet with two smaller 1,150 square foot areas. It will also boast a 600 square foot warming kitchen, two, 200 square foot restrooms, a 600 square foot enclosed entry, a 400 square foot open-air, drop-off porch, and two 400 square foot storage areas.

Aiming to be as inclusive as possible in the initial contract wording, other potential amenities brought up by the council were outside access for each of the subdivided areas, should they all be in use independently; a janitor supply room in the mechanical area; a beverage area and possible portable beverage counter; a secure coat check; and an outdoor area, such as a patio, that could be used for photos and more. Thinking farther into the future, the options of "green" technologies, electronic "bells and whistles," and geothermal heating were also mentioned.

LED Sign

Terry Lesser, of Rush Creek LTD., brought forth concerns of a large LED sign that has been placed outside of the municipal liquor store. In a prepared letter, Lesser pointed out the size and distracting nature of the sign, the fact that it simultaneously broadcasts ads for liquor along with community events, and the excessive cost of such a display as concerns of residents.

The sign is in place due to a brokered deal to test out how an electronic message center might work if it were to be part of a sign design package. Administrator Block has said he has received many "favorable comments" and a "number of inquiries" from other businesses. Lesser has stated quite the opposite. Any final decisions on signage at the store will come before the council for action.

104 West Winona Street

Citing "neighborhood complaints" and an unsuccessful attempt to get a property owner to repair or remove a home, the council voted in favor of ordering owner compliance. The property, which sustained flood damage, is valued, as is, at $16,600. The estimated cost of repair is $19,000.

Firefighter position

The department will be seeking two positions within the department prior to the start of the October Firefighter 1 Class. The department will follow the same application, testing, and interview process as in the past to select the best candidates.

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