Decision delayed on new home for senior centerFarmington’s seniors are going to have to wait just a while longer to find out if the Rambling River Center will be moved into the former Farmington City Hall.
By: Michelle Leonard, The Farmington Independent
Farmington’s seniors are going to have to wait just a while longer to find out if the Rambling River Center will be moved into the former Farmington City Hall.
A decision on whether to upgrade the former city hall building — which has sat vacant for nearly six months, since city staff moved to their new building on Third and Spruce streets — was delayed to an unspecified date during Monday’s Farmington City Council meeting.
The decision frustrates many Rambling River Center members who are anxious to get going on the project.
“I was disappointed they couldn’t make a decision,” member Charlie Webber said Tuesday, “I don’t know what their hold up is. It’s not like they’re building a new building in this economy.”
Though council member Christy Jo Fogarty is ready to move ahead with the project, members Steve Wilson and Julie May raised several concerns that ultimately led to the action being put on hold.
Last fall, the council agreed that the old city hall building, which is still owned by the city, would be a good location for the Rambling River Center. The current center presents space limitations for programs and activities, and it needs several structural upgrades. With limited parking around a building that hosts approximately 320 members annually, the council members saw the old city hall as a good place to relocate the center.
Still, the old city hall needs its own share of upgrades if it's going to become the Rambling River Center. With some creative budgeting and a fair share of volunteer work, though, Farmington Parks and Recreation director Randy Distad said the immediate renovations could be done for about $265,000. The new building could be open by mid-October, under the scenario presented this week.
The most expensive item listed by Distad was bringing the building up to code by installing sprinklers and a fire alarm system, which would cost about $98,000 together. Replacing the old air conditioning system, which had not worked properly the past few years, would cost approximately $30,000, and ripping out and replacing existing carpeting with carpet and hard flooring — using recycled material — would cost another $50,000.
The rest of the renovations are aesthetic, Distad said, and many of those could be done by volunteers. Volunteers would be called on to paint, pull out the old carpeting and remove old wall and door materials, which would help to defray the cost.
Distad also presented longer-range plans, which included another $200,000 for projects such as building a working kitchen ($64,0000) and replacing the heating system ($85,000) — but those items would be included only when feasible.
Most of the necessary money would come through fundraising. The center has set a goal of collecting $85,000 over a five-year period.
“While $85,000 is an ambitious goal, we think over those five years, we can reach that,” said Rambling River Center coordinator Missie Kohlbeck said. “We’ve talked about it a lot. We are very positive it can be done.”
The city would also get funding through an agreement with T-Mobile for construction of cell towers around the community. That would account for $15,000 annually over five years for the upgrades. The remainder would come from tax levy — an increase of $2.50 to $5 annually on a $200,000 home, depending on the amount collected through the fundraising efforts.
Though the proposal included upgrades, May had questions about how the building would be used. She asked for a floor plan of the building, as well as information about what kinds of programs and activities Rambling River Center conducts.
In 2007, Kohlbeck said, there were 365 ongoing rentals and 18 private rentals for the current site. Some of those rentals were for groups like Alcoholics Anonymous, 4H, townhome associations and the local DFL party.
May said she would like to see how the old building will be used, as well.
Wilson cited the city’s recent loss of state aid as a concern, especially if the city is contemplating spending extra money on upgrading the Rambling River Center without knowing how the recent cuts will affect the 2009 and future budgets.
But council member Fogarty, who has supported the concept since last fall, noted the old city hall has already sat vacant for what she feels to be too long.
“I see this as one of those real investments in our community,” she said. “I’m done talking about it. I’m ready to move forward.”
On Tuesday, city administrator Peter Herlofsky said the item would be placed on the Feb. 17 city council agenda for more discussion. For that meeting, Distad will develop a floor plan for the old city hall site, as well as come up some options for making use of the current Rambling River Center building. He will also come up with a projection as to how many volunteers will be needed to help with the building and a list of programs and activities that would be conducted in the space if the center is relocated.
Still, Webber is frustrated. He and other members see the old city hall as “an excellent chance for the senior center,” in a building that has a lot of potential.
“The members are frustrated something isn’t being done,” he said. “If they just said ‘we aren’t going to do it,’ then we could go on with life, but they just keep putting us off.
“The seniors always seem to be put on the back burner when it comes to things like that,” he added.