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Village of Cottage Grove takes early step in library process

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The Cottage Grove Village Board took the first step toward establishing a formal library board, as board members continue an ongoing conversation about constructing a possible library building in the community.

The village board voted on Monday, July 19 to send a letter to the Department of Public Instruction on the village’s interest in a possible library project. It’s the first step toward creating an organized library board. The letter was approved 4-2, with board members John Williams and Troy Allen dissenting.

In late 2020, the Library Planning Committee surveyed village of Cottage Grove residents on their views on a potential future library. With 816 households responding, a 26% response rate, more than 70% of residents expressed interest in the construction of a library in the community.

The Library Planning Committee, an ad-hoc committee formed in 2019, has been researching the cost to operate and build a library, investigating tax impacts and fundraising opportunities, and looking at the potential next steps of the project.

Library Planning Committee chair Cindi Kelm-Nelson presented the findings of that research to the Cottage Grove Village Board on Monday, July 5.

The committee recommended forming a library board, and conducting a financial feasibility study with an outside consultant, to gauge the size of a capital campaign the village could run, as next steps toward a possible library project. A financial study could cost around $20,000 committee members said, with outside organizations already pledging financial support.

On July 5, Allen asked about conducting a second survey, to ask residents how much tax funding they would be comfortable contributing to the project, before moving forward on the creation of a library board.

Allen and Williams echoed this idea again on July 19, saying they’d prefer to survey or perform a feasibility study first, to better gauge community interest.

“Why wouldn’t we want to start with the formal study first tio figure out the costs and are people willing to pay for that,” Williams asked. “I don’t want to get people excited” if it isn’t feasible. “Knowing a majority of the public would be behind it is key.”

Kelm-Nelson responded that forming a library board before doing more financial studies is important to donors, and the security of what they’re donating to.

“It’s a chicken or the egg conversation,” board member David Peterson said.

Allen also raised concerns over cost estimates presented on July 5, regarding the expense of constructing a library building.

The committee worked with Ehlers, the village’s financial advisor, to develop low, medium and high financing estimates, Kelm-Nelson said.

Early estimates of operational costs are around $500,000 a year, including staff wages and benefits, training, programming, technology, utility and building maintenance.

Initial capital cost estimates of constructing a library, Kelm-Nelson said in the presentation, landed between $5.2 million and $7.5 million.

A cost summary in the report presented to the village board July 5 said the village could also experience additional costs in the project beyond just capital expenses of constructing a building. Those could include architectural design services, furniture and fixtures, road work costs that are potentially reimbursable, and other broader costs, putting wider estimates between $9.5 million and $12.4 million.

Allen expressed concern over using just the estimate of the capital expense of a building, instead of project-wide estimates.

Kelm-Nelson said these are very early estimates, and do not include any grant funding or funds raised through a capital campaign. That’s why the village’s next step should be a financial feasibility study, the committee advised the village board.

“I understand the concern regarding our taxes, and I think it’s prudent to continue this process to see what we’re actually going to spend when we get to this point,” board member Melissa Ratcliff said, also a member of the library planning committee.

“A well funded capital campaign might pay for every penny of it,” Peterson said.

The Library Planning Committee envisions 2025 as the start of that work, with at least another year of planning before architectural services are brought in. Three years is also a reasonable length for a fundraising campaign, she added.

The Library Planning Committee also has a potential site envisioned on Cottage Grove Road, west of Glacial Drumlin School and south of Granite Ridge School, Ratcliff said, which is owned by the Friends of the Cottage Grove Library nonprofit.

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