WILLMAR—One of the major projects in the 2018 capital budget for the city of Willmar is a new city hall to replace the current building on Sixth Street Southwest.
The 2018 capital plan has $8.5 million for a new city hall, though no actual money has been set aside. There has been discussion about bonding or even using city reserves to pay for it.
“All of this is very preliminary. We can’t make a decision on this tonight,” said Councilor Ron Christianson during Tuesday’s work session of the Willmar City Council.
Discussions ranged from whether to hire an architectural firm to possible locations for the building.
“There is no decision tonight. What we are looking for is direction to move forward,” City Administrator Ike Holland said.
While a city hall might not be the most exciting project in the world, Holland believes it is very important, especially if it is kept in downtown Willmar.
“It’s not just a city hall. We are looking at furthering the development, the economic vitality, the sense of community in Willmar, and that is the way I look at it,” Holland said.
While no vote was taken on any portion of the proposed project during the informal work session, the council gave Holland direction to seek an architectural firm.
The council also removed two possible locations from contention right away. The city will not consider the old Nelsen Laundry property along U.S. Highway 12 nor will it consider a parcel of land on First Street South currently used by Rice Memorial Hospital for parking.
The third possible location discussed is essentially where city offices are now, except the new building would be constructed south of the current building. This would also mean permanently closing a portion of Becker Avenue between the new City Hall and the Kandiyohi County Courthouse.
Building in this spot would also lend itself to the establishment of a government complex, which could include such things as WRAC 8, nonprofit offices and perhaps even a community center.
“I think the concept of a government complex downtown is the most interesting because it leaves us with the most amount of options,” Councilor Andrew Plowman said.
The possibility of purchasing the old Hardware Hank Express building—along Fifth Street Southwest and within the same block as the city building—is still on the table as well.
Richard Engan of Engan Associates spoke to the council about the process his company uses in providing architectural services.
“The front part of the project always takes a lot longer than people think,” Engan said. “Six months is much more common than a month.”
The process includes a pre-design study, which would uncover what exactly the city will need in a new city hall, and an architectural study to go into more detail of what the building could include.
“There are many decisions that need to be made,” Engan said. “These are some of the biggest questions.”
If chosen as the architect, Engan Associates would also complete the schematic design, design development and help the city through the construction documents and bidding phase. The firm would also act as the city’s construction administration during the building phase.
The city is not required to seek bids to hire an architectural firm, and the council can hire any company it would like too, Mayor Marv Calvin said.
“Projects like this, there are a lot of benefits going with a local firm,” Plowman said.
The council will have to approve any agreement with a firm going forward.
While many of the councilors seemed open to a city hall project, there was also the ongoing push to make sure public input is part of the process.
“We should hear what the public wants, hear what their vision is,” said Councilor Fernando Alvarado.
While the council wants both the process and the eventual project done right, there was concern about making sure the whole thing doesn’t slow to a crawl, especially with the current condition of some city structures, including city hall, being an issue.
“We said our facilities were a priority. This was something we wanted to get done this fiscal year,” Councilor Kathy Schwantes said. “I think this is something we need to do thoughtfully and methodically and have the process in place. But I would like to have a sense that, yes, this is something we are committed to and we are going to move forward with it.”
West Central Tribune by Shelby Lindrud