New city hall a question of priority; 4 possible sites being considered

Willmar City Offices

WILLMAR — The Willmar City Council continued to discuss a new city hall during the work session on Monday, though there was no consensus on how or when the project will move forward. However, the discussion will be picked up again during next Monday’s meeting, when the council will decide whether to hold a town hall on the issue later this month.

“We need to make sure we do this right,” Councilor Audrey Nelsen said.

There were multiple opinions about the project, from how fast it is moving to possible sites.

Richard Engan of Engan Associates, the architect hired by the city for the project, presented four different sites for a city hall Monday — the current site on Sixth Street Southwest, Highway 12 East at the old Elm Lane mobile home park, Block 50 in downtown Willmar and the Kandi Mall.

“In each of these there are different approaches that come up,” Engan said.

The building committee, made up of City Administrator Ike Holland, Mayor Marv Calvin, Councilor Julie Asmus, Planning and Development Director Bruce Peterson and City Planner Sarah Anderson, along with Engan, narrowed down the site choices to those four, because they offered a variety of different options and locations.

“We want to try and focus on a decision,” Engan said.

When looking for sites Engan said they looked at whether the site was:

* convenient and accessible to residents,

* could serve as a catalyst for increased improvement in the city,

* had the ability to accommodate city functions on a minimum number of sites,
* was visibly located,

* had appropriate parking and

* removed the least amount of land from the tax roles.

Some on the council wonder if perhaps they needed to look at even more sites, while Asmus asked how many more was necessary. Engan has already presented once before on certain sites for the city hall and the council asked him to go back and look at others.

“How many more times are we going to come back?” Asmus asked.

Councilor Ron Christianson questioned why the city hall building was a priority at all, especially since the city has so many other issues to deal with including stormwater and other facilities.

“It seems to be going awful fast, with little thought being put into it, on the council side,” Christianson said. “To me, it is not a priority.”

The city council made the city hall a priority after the council retreat last July, a retreat Christianson, Asmus and Councilor Rick Fagerlie did not attend. At the Aug. 7, 2017, council meeting, the council in a 6-0 vote, passed a resolution supporting the list of priority areas and selected projects from the retreat.

The trio of priority areas are facilities, stormwater management, and parks. Under facilities, the council decided to focus on the city offices, Civic Center, Community Center, auditorium and the Dorothy Olson Aquatic Center. Christianson and Fagerlie abstained from that vote.

“We realized there were significant infrastructure needs,” Councilor Kathy Schwantes said. “I think we are moving too slowly.”

Christianson also has an issue with how the project will be paid for. Most likely the city will bond for the funds and city taxpayers will end up paying off the bond, Christianson said. Currently, $8.5 million is listed in the 2018 capital improvement plan for a city hall and community center project.

One reason some on the council are pushing for the city hall project is for city employees who actually work in the current office building.

“We have a responsibility to our employees. We are expecting our employees to work in this environment,” Asmus said. Some of the concerns about the current city hall include air quality issues, lack of storage and an inefficient layout.

“It seems the current city hall has been in need of attention for decades. We are a city of band-aid fixers,” Councilor Fernando Alvarado said. He wants the city council to be bold and move forward. “We don’t do things big. We build them for a now, not for tomorrow. We miss opportunities by dragging our feet.”

Article credit: West Central Tribune. June 13th, 2018 by Shelby Lindrud.

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