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Council to have say in Viroqua Center

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The future of how the Viroqua Center initiative proceeds is in the hands of the Viroqua City Council.

The council could meet and discuss as early as Feb. 12 whether to allow the library task force to continue planning the project as a collaboration or task the library board with designing a stand-alone facility.

The Viroqua City Council held a special meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 25, and discussed the work of the library task force to date. The task force gave an hour-long presentation of its work to the council.

Alderman Terry Noble said the library board has gone as far as it can under a May 2010 resolution made by the council. That resolution asked for the library to investigate the costs and construction of a new 17,500-square-foot library.

"I want to caution everyone about signing contracts and hiring companies and applying for grants under the name of the Viroqua Center," Noble said. "There is no approved Viroqua Center by this council... We have to decide in principle whether that's what we want to do - have the library as a self-standing entity or with it as part of a Viroqua Center project."

The Viroqua Center is an ongoing collaboration between the McIntosh Memorial Library, Western Technical College and other possible community partners. Through the partnership a new library would be created along with space for a business and training facility that would have space for arts and theatre. The Viroqua Center would be located in downtown Viroqua adjacent to Western Technical College. It's estimated to cost $5 million-$8 million.

To date, the Viroqua Center project has received more than $500,000 in grants.

Noble said his biggest concern was how much money could be raised for a Viroqua Center project. He said there was a considerable difference between $3.5 million and $8 million. Noble said that the city has to decide if it wants to be tied to the Viroqua Center campaign and how it should also handle other capital campaigns, such as building an outdoor pool or a new city hall.

"It's not a simple answer, it's a complicated one," Noble said.

Gail Frie, of the library task force, said the collaborative nature of what the Viroqua Center has achieved to date has led him to believe that public local fundraising could be as little as $1 million.

However, Alderman Gary Krause, said that the potential maintenance costs were difficult to tabulate.

"I agree with Terry, I'm not sure the council can make a good, objective decision until some of the numbers come in," Krause said.

City Attorney David Jenkins said that the library board, as its own entity, could proceed with the Viroqua Center project without city approval, because it has that power by statute.

"They've come in here because they're not going that direction," Jenkins said. "They want collaboration with the city. I thought I should make the point."

Viroqua City Administrator John Severson said that while the library board is responsible for running the library, in the end the city is responsible for the facility itself.

Jeff Gohlke of the library task force said it would be helpful to the task force if the city council gave it guidance with a new resolution that outlined how far the city would authorize the library board to go.

"It would be useful to everybody involved if there was a city resolution from the council giving us the next step, next direction how we should proceed from here," Gohlke said. "All the choices are still out there... Unarguably there's benefits from teaming up with other partners. You get more facility, you share the operating costs everybody benefits from the relationships. So, I think there's a strong argument for that. But you may have other considerations that you're looking at, too."

Noble said that was a matter the council would have to debate while also looking over a written resolution.

At the beginning of the meeting, Peter Daniels of the library board said the task force to date has done only planning and gathering information. Library director Trina Erickson said the library board is looking to the city council for a new resolution.

Erickson said that the task force spent $173,000 during its "phase 1" work. Daniels said another $24,000 bill will come due soon, raising the phase 1 costs to approximately $200,000. This is money the library had set aside for planning work on a new facility. The library also received a $22,500 planning grant from the state.

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