The pursuit of remodeling an old bank building into a new library has reached a new chapter as the Wadena City Council secured a construction manager and selected a design for the reimagined space.
Those following along may remember the project was set to move forward last November at a cost of $2.4 million. Thanks to COVID, and code compliance making it necessary to install an elevator in the building, construction costs have risen such that the full remodel was now expected to cost closer to $3.6 million for an existing building that the city says is in great shape.
City council members heard about their options Wednesday, March 24, and agreed to move the library project forward in a scaled-down, "focused" version, as opposed to the larger project called the "renovation and expansion" version.
This "focused" option is going to cost an estimated $2.7 million compared to the $3.6 million "full" choice.
Even though the project is moving forward in a scaled-down version, the group was comfortable with it mainly because no matter what plan, they are gaining about twice the space as the current building allows just by switching buildings.
“No matter which path you choose the library will be able to do more than they do today,” Susan Morgan, of BKV Group, said. That space allows more room for content, creative areas, meeting rooms and staff space. The city entered into an agreement with BKV Group (Boarman Kroos Vogel Group, Inc. of Minneapolis) in July 2020 to help with the design for this library.
“There’s a lot of building over there,” Councilman Bruce Uselman said.
The main features of the “focused” plan include interior renovation of the first floor and investments in code upgrades such as additional restrooms and an elevator. Future changes could still include the first floor expansion of a children’s area and a lower level renovation at a cost of around $600,000. The council heard the additional work would not be much higher should they choose to complete the work in the next five years, based on projections from BKV Group.
The “focused” plan still offers specific areas for children, teens, adults, a maker space, meeting room, quiet reading area, microfilm room and media area. While not much changes with the lower level at this point, there is still added space for staff to complete their work and a space for Friends of the Library to house their fundraising materials. In general day-to-day operations, the public will only use the first floor under this plan but would have access to the lower level.
To go with the “full” project would have been almost $1 million more than the “phased” plan. Those raising funds including Wadena resident Luther Nervig shared that they have found success in raising funds and once the project gets underway, volunteers believe more people will step up with donations. However, the idea of raising another million seemed out of reach.
“There certainly is more out there,” Nervig said. “But we are competing with two others projects at this point.” Those include a new Tri-County Health Care center set to break ground May 4, 2021 and a Wadena County Humane Society remodel also planning to break ground this spring or summer. All three are major projects demanding millions of dollars on their way to completion.
So far, the fundraising arm has brought in about $1.27 million. Councilman Wade Miller wanted to have a handle on the funds raised, the expected worth of the current library and how the city planned to cover the remaining costs. City administrator Janette Bower said an appraisal would be completed on the current library. Wadena Library branch manager Renee Frethem said interest in that building remains.
As for the remaining costs, Bower expressed how she has been pursuing bonding and a possible local option sales tax. If approved they could get the LOST tax question on a 2022 ballot in the city. The city “could possibly issue general obligation bonds prior to holding a referendum for the sales tax authority provided that there is language in the bill that would allow the city to reimburse itself for a bond that would have already been issued,” according to information shared with Bower.
If a levy were approved, it was not yet known the tax implications for tax payers in the city. Miller requested that breakdown, which Bower said she would provide at the April council meeting.
If they were to bond for the project locally and later gain approval to add the LOST tax, it’s possible they can use that money from the broader region to pay down the local debt. That was one question Bower was working to answer for the council.
Beyond these decisions, council members and library volunteers discussed the design concepts. Concerns about both concepts included the placement of the children’s area perhaps too far from the restrooms, the garden area (part of the future options) having an unpleasant view of an alleyway and the lack of off-street parking. At this time this parking is already used by business people and tenants of downtown apartments.
It was reported there are 26 parking spots in the city parking lot that surrounds the bank building. Removal of a canopy area could open up a few more parking spots in the lot. The fact that there are several city parking lots within a block of this site was mentioned by Frethem. Mayor George Deiss said that there are many vehicles parked in the bank parking lot now that should not be.
Councilman Mark Lunde suggested buying the storage building which now sits between two city parking lots. Several suggested the cost to buy and remove the building was too high. Bower said one easy option is to get the lot re-striped to better show the parking spaces on hand.
Deiss, playing devil's advocate, said that it’s possible they may be living with COVID for some time and under that scenario, the current smaller library is sufficient. To put millions of dollars into a larger building that may be limited in use was something they had to consider. Ultimately he leaned towards the lower cost approach. Councilman Lunde agreed stating that there remains many unknowns about the future of gathering places.
Choosing a construction manager
Out of three options, the council selected Contegrity Group as construction manager of the project. Contegrity was the low bidder, submitting an overall proposed fee of $197,050 -- significantly less than RJM Construction ($248,328) and Kraus Anderson coming in with a range between $322,500 and $352,500. Keep in mind the design of the library is still somewhat fluid, and that these management groups were asked to provide their highest expected estimate. Their actual costs as well as the actual costs of the library renovation may be high at this time -- they hope.
Contegrity has been involved in other local projects including the new headquarters for Todd-Wadena Electric Cooperative and the Sebeka Public School. While they have been widely involved in government buildings, they have not been involved in a library project.
If the project lunges forward, a schedule shows an advertisement for bids going out May 3 and a bid opening near the end of May. Construction could begin in June and be complete by January 28, 2022.
Can the current library be anything but a library?
This question arose months ago when city attorney Jeff Pederson brought up the deed on the property. The deed that granted the current library site to the city, dated July 24, 1919, has the notation that the property is to be used for public library purposes. He found that because funds from the old library are going to pay for the new library the city was in the clear to move ahead with selling the current library property to an entity other than a public library, according to Bower’s interpretation.