CIP discussion continues, but action imminent

After quite a few worksessions about the Safety Center and the Library and whether, when, where,  and how we will replace or expand these facilities, it looks like the Council will finally take the first bit of action on Monday (Agenda, packet available on the City website, as always).

Although the Northfield News headline proclaimed the Council had “stalled,”  we are moving ahead with 4 proposed motions.

  • #1. Confirmation of the need to replace the Safety Center and/or expand Library to meet the community needs for the next 20 years
  • #2. Finalize discussions on the preliminary scope of each project.
  • #3. Identify the year in which the construction of the project(s) would be scheduled to commence
  • #4. Identify a preliminary not to exceed total cost for each project.

I suspect I’ll be up way past my bedtime on Monday.

#1 is clear to me – we do need to improve both these facilities. #2-#4 require placing our bets carefully – but any action will be speculating on a handful of factors which I don’t think any Council member fully grasps (I know I don’t).

#2: Scope Part of my problem with the Safety Center process is that I don’t know who to believe.  I can put your money on the Task Force Recommendation or the minority report or some other option, but I’ll be betting on  cost estimates, betting on the value of keeping the police or fire at the current location (and the value of reusing a building or not), betting on the costs and/or benefits of a combined police/fire facility (or separating the two), and betting on the cost savings of acting now vs. acting later.   Put them all together and you get to rely on 7 people’s gut feelings on the weight and value of these factors.    Do you trust us?

The Library decision-making process has been clearer and I have been impressed with the Library’s information gathering and decision-making.   I trust their numbers and their conclusions, but I have different questions here.   I want the public safety facility or facilities to be efficient and help our people do the most effective job possible which can be measured in response times, vehicles, crime statistics and other ready data.  I don’t plan on spending much time at a police or fire facility and hope I don’t need the immediate services of either department.  But the Library is a place where the community gathers, it is an integral part of our historic downtown, and it serves  long term, less immediately quantifiable values of literacy, democracy, education, economic development, and community-building.

We hear the term “Taj Mahal” a lot – as in “we don’t want to pay for a “Taj Mahal” of a Library – this is true in several ways.  The Taj Mahal is a mausoleum, a tomb, and I would like our Library to be an active, lively, participatory place – not a repository of dead stuff.  I don’t want our Library to take 20 years to build (the Taj Mahal was begun around 1632 and completed about 1653).  And, of course, I think our budget does not allow for so opulent a design.   However, I would like our Library to be an attractive and appropriate facility Northfield residents will like to visit often (and then spend more time and money downtown), which they will support through tax dollars and charitable donations, and which will anchor the north end of Division Street.  Parking and convenient pedestrian and bicycle access are critical to meet these goals.   What’s the best facility for the lowest price which best achieves these goals?

So, where am I on the scope issue? For the Safety Center, I’m straddling Options B and C which both call for the reuse of the existing facility and building a new facility for the department NOT staying at the current site.  Option B keeps the police at the current site; Option C keeps the fire department in place.   I’m betting on lower land costs (and less land not paying property taxes) and perhaps some cost savings in construction.  Separating the facilities has some costs, but we can tailor the facilities to meet the needs of the department housed and down the road it means we can expand and remodel each separately to meet the changing needs of each service.   For the Library, I’d like to see the most cost effective design and most energetic fund-raising, but I support moving forward on the current site and integrating parking into the design.

#3.  When?  Roll the dice. It’s going to cost money, lots of money, your money.  Rhonda Pownell often cites current low construction costs as a reason to move forward quickly – OK, that pushes us toward starting one project as soon as we can, but doesn’t help much with the other(s).   Others say the economy is still shaky and we should wait until it recovers before doing anything.   I’m for establishing a timeline which stages the projects appropriately (whatever that means) and then marching forward.  There’s never going to be a good time and we’ve deferred too long already and there are other facilities waiting to fail.

#4. Not to exceed cost? Roll the dice again.   Take the estimates we’ve received and and look for opportunities to save through good design and wise construction choices.    Take the estimates and decide how much we’re willing to ask you to pay per year.   We have to rely on your input about what you value and what you are/aren’t willing to pay and the numbers we get from staff.

Of course, we can decide to do both projects (or all three depending on how you count), one, or none.  Watch the meeting streamed live on KYMN.

3 thoughts on “CIP discussion continues, but action imminent

  1. Betsey: Clearly, the Safety Center issues take priority over the library. I don’t know why we are even talking about the Library in this economy.

    I am concerned that there seems to be a rush by the City to get big bonding bills done before the School District comes forward with another school. Perhaps some discussion with the School is appropriate.

  2. Pingback: On taking responsibility for 20+ years of deferring maintenance on the Northfield Safety Center : Locally Grown

  3. Betsey: I have heard virtually all of the council discussions on the SC/ Library, and I don’t think the Council as a group is informed enough to make decisions other than what you refer to as at a “gut” level, and you yourself have framed the most pertinent questions in your comments above.

    My baseline question is this…. WHY is the staff so heavily invested ? The constant ‘threat’ of getting a referendum in before the school district does, and then the revelation that the school district is not thinking of a referendum next year makes the staff statement beyond duplicitous.
    How are you to know who to believe?

    How is the Council to deal with that level of misinformation from the most senior staff?

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