Safety Center Task Force recommendations due soon

safety-center-cover-sshot In City Administrator Joel Walinski’s Friday Memo last week, he noted that the “Safety Center Task Force toured several public facilities last week.”  Recommendations from the Task Force (members listed below) are expected to come before the city council in April or May 2009. Financing and location are not the only issues; size and the pros and cons for separate facilities for police and fire have to be looked at, too. So let the discussion begin. Meanwhile, allow me to grumble about the City’s use of their web site for the Safety Center Task Force. (continued)

There are two Safety Center Task Force pages on the City’s web site: this one has a schedule of meetings; this one has agendas; both have links to the Jan. 12 Space Needs Analysis Report (23 page PDF of a Powerpoint, linked to two different PDF’s here and here).

Neither Task Force page has a list of members. For that, one has to search Google (the city’s search tool won’t find it) and the minutes of the Feb. 2 Council meeting lists the names approved by the Council. More helpful was the Nfld News article on Feb. 4, 2009: 11 named to Safety Center Task Force. See also their Jan. 30, 2009 article: City OKS forming safety center task force.

For convenience, here are the Safety Center Task Force members, thanks to Suzi Rook’s Northfield News article:

councilors Jon Denison and Kris Vohs, Police Chief Mark Taylor, Fire Chief Gerry Franek, Planning Commission member Greg Colby, Jerry Anderson (member of the Northfield Rural Fire Association and former Northfield mayor), Andy Yurek (director of Northfield Ambulance Service), Ray Cox (former state representative, school board member and owner, Northfield Construction Company), David Hvistendahl (attorney and businessman with knowledge of building reuse), Fred Rogers (vice president and treasurer, Carleton College) and Janelle Teppen (Northfield resident, assistant city administrator, city of Inver Grove Heights, and staff liaison to its safety center task force).

56 thoughts on “Safety Center Task Force recommendations due soon”

  1. Anyone know what the four alternative sites for the Safety Center are? Joel Walinski wrote about it in his April 24 Friday Memo but didn’t say what they were and [sigh], there’s nothing on the Safety Center Task Force website  about it. Joel wrote:

    The Safety Center Taskforce met Thursday evening and reduced the number of potential sites down to four possible alternatives. The Taskforce will now review more specific data on each site regarding soils, infrastructure requirements, ponding requirements, and potential land costs. John McNamara from Wold Architect will also develop some mock-ups of site layouts and refine the building cost estimates.

    The Taskforce is scheduled to meet and discuss this information next Thursday April 30. A Safety Center Open House has also been scheduled for the public on May 7 and is tentatively scheduled to meet with the Council on the May 11, 2009 worksession.

  2. I have a question about the elimination of the site at the NEcorner of the Woodley/Hwy 3 intersection. The newspaper describes this as having been the frontrunner, and indeed it has always been mentioned as such. At one point it was reported that all the negotiations with MNDOT ( site owner ) were virtually complete; they just needed to figure out where to relocate their road maintenance materials.

    Now we hear this site is no longer in the running because of ‘contamination’.

    1. Surely MNDOT would have known of this.

    2. Surely the city should have known of this.

    3. If the site is contaminated it is up to the owner to clean it up, so …?

    4. What’s the rest of the story here?

    Surely the NFNews, having been at the council meetings, would have asked the obvious question of why this long preferred site has fallen away?

    Anyone from the Task Force wish to comment?

  3. Hmmm, good questions, Kiffi. I see the Nfld News article: Advisors narrow Safety Center sites to four.

    The four that remain include the current site at Hwy. 3 and Fifth Street, Furlong Motors on Cannon Lane, Central Valley Coop on Hwy. 3 and Riverview Drive behind Perkins restaurant owned by William Cowles.

    In Fed. I blogged about the city property adjacent to the city maintenance facility that was being considered for a swap with MNDOT’s Woodley St. property. That parcel IS contaminated.

    I’m guessing there’s lots more to know about this, which is a problem with all the boards and commissions and task forces.

    I called Ray Cox who’s on the Taskforce and asked him to comment here.

    1. Griff: it’s fine that you moved my comment, but part of it was directed to the fact that when the administrator’s memo comes out, and there is such an obvious ‘new track’ after the reports regarding the formerly preferred site, and the relevant negotiations; then I think it should have been addressed in the memo.
      I think Mr. Walinski’s memos are generally far more informative and complete than some in the past; I guess he has set a ‘high bar’ for himself.

  4. Kiffi…good questions. I’ll try my best at answers.

    First I will also say that at the next task force meeting I’ll bring up the concern about getting materials posted promptly to the website. We have minutes, maps and things being distributed via the electronic world so they should be on the site in a timely fashion too.

    Joel Walinski informed us that the Woodley site was removed from consideration by MnDot last week. I believe this was mainly due to the cost of environmental clean-up on the site. If the state keeps the site and reuses it for their own truck station needs they are required to do a particular level of clean up…let’s call it level B. If they transfer the title of the property to another entity they are required to complete a full clean-up of the site—let’s call it level A. The cost to the state to do the level A clean-up is high enough that it probably doesn’t make sense for them to do it. Instead they will most likely stay there. I’m sure MnDot knew all about the contamination on the site, but only recently received up to date clean-up cost information.

    The Riverview Drive site owned by the city that MnDot was considering relocating too came up with a fair amount of contamination of the soils, plus structural problems. MnDot did exploration work on the site earlier this year as noted by Griff in a posting. The site was not filled with structural material in a controlled manner so essentially the majority of the fill material would have to be removed, and some of it is contaminated. So MnDot pulled away from the site.

    The four sites left on our list are:
    * Current site on TH3 and 5th St.
    * Cannon Valley Coop, propane site in TH3
    * Furlong Motors, TH3
    * Cowles property, Riveview Lane

    I also want to note that the Northfield Construction Company (NCC) site was briefly on the site list. When Mayor Rossing asked me to be on the task force I did not know what the site requirements would be. A couple of meetings ago we identified the preferred site requirements, some of which included:

    * Adjacent to an existing government facility
    * 4-5 acre size
    * Adequate utilities
    * Good access to TH3

    After reviewing the list of site requirements I realized that my shop/offce location was probably the only site that met most of the requriements, specifically:

    * It is a large site of 5 acres…not 1.5 as the Northfield News stated.
    * It is immediately adjacent to the City maintenance facility so that the sites could be combined.
    * It is served by a 16″ water main.
    * The existing city storm water pond could handle the on site storm water management requirements, freeing up the entire 5 acres for use instead of having to dedicate 15% of the site for a storm water pond.
    * The site has direct access to TH3 via Riverview Drive.
    * It is a corner site, allowing excellent access for drive in, drive out configurations.

    I suggested the NCC site only because it met all the established site criteria. It would be a huge issue for me to deal with building a new facility for my construction company, but I was willing to consider doing that if the task force determined that the NCC site was the best location for a new safety facility.

    Not wanting to have a potentially good site overlooked, I suggested that the task force look at the site. I also requested that the Cowles property across the street from my shop be added to the site list.

    After I proposed the NCC site I called Mayor Rossing to let her know what I did. I asked her if she wished me to resign from the task force. She said she preferred that I remain on the task force, but not participate in discussions about the NCC site. I agreed to that.

    However, the Northfield News ran an article that implied there was some impropriety in considering the NCC site with me on the task force. At the next meeting of the task force I said rather than have the News “jerk me around like a turkey on a string” that I was removing the NCC site from consideration. The task force complied with my request and removed the site from consideration.

    I am pleased that the Cowles site that I suggested remains on the site list.

    1. Ray: Thanks for the very informative explanation; that’s what I thought should have been in the administrator’s memo.

      Just for the record , I have NO problem with your site being included in the deliberations . I think it is impossible for a person who is active in the community to not come up with a POSSIBLE conflict at some point. What matters, is how it’s handled… I hesitate to say anything more on that for fear of starting up the controversy of the last administration all over again.

      Thanks again for your response; I hope it’s clear I was NOT directing the basic question to you.

  5. Ray:

    I am very dissapointed that you would pull your site, although I understand your concerns and cannot expect any you or any citizen to make the sacrifices that being tortured in the press would require.

    If Northfield continues with its obsession with “conflict of interest” there will no one left but the homeless and jobless to serve on boards or the city council.

    Having an interest in the community is one of the best qualifications for public service. I think the city is shooting itself in the foot to not include the Northfield Construction site in the new safety center location mix.

    I live in Dundas, and I expect we will be asked to contribute to the new safety center. I hope Northfield will consider every qualified site instead of running off good prospects.

    Thanks for all your community service Ray.

  6. Jane and Kiffi, I appreciate your thoughtful comments. I agree that how possible conflicts are handled is the important issue. As I noted, I was not even aware of what site requirements would be when I agreed to serve on the Task Force. However, it was clear that the News tried as best they could to impune my character and motives. I had absolutely no assurance that they would not continue to inflict personal and professional damage on me regardless of how my site was handled. I felt that by speaking directly with the Mayor and securing a sound plan on how to deal with a possible conflict, things would be fine for a site evaluation by the full Task Force. But it was clear to me that others had a different agenda. As Mark Twain said, ‘don’t pick a fight with people who buy ink by the barrel”.

    Jane makes a good point. I too had hoped that all sites would be considered and evaluated on their own merits. It is very important to site this facilty properly. Kiffi also is correct in that it is often very difficult for involved people not to have some interests in lots of areas. In this particular instance I thought it would be possible to have the NCC site considered without my input. The News clearly feels otherwise and was prepared to mount a campaign that would be damaging.

    1. Ray: As a person who has been the subject of a lot of anonymous defamatory personal comment on the NFNews website, I can fully understand your reticence. In my opinion, the newspaper definitely has ‘agendas’, and pursues them. The question is why? certainly not in the pursuit of journalistic excellence… and that remark will undoubtedly bring out their “trolls”.

      But can you tell us anymore about the withdrawal of the site at Woodley and Hwy 3? I understand your explanation re: the contamination, and the various levels of cleanup costs, so essentially it means that prime highway site is lost for a higher use, unless the re-development profits are worth to the owner the costs of the cleanup.
      Wow! that’s daunting.. that “wow” could also mean a ‘word to the wise’; don’t expect MNDOT to clean up after themselves (Or maybe it was contaminated from a prior use?). I would think a state agency should have the responsibility to do that sort of cleanup, just on principle.

      But another question is the size of that MNDOT site: it’s certainly not 4-5 Acres, is it?

  7. Kiffi, it appears that you and I share a common trait…having various people take cheap shots at us. Regarding the ‘why’ the News does what it does, I agree that they have their own agenda. I’m never quite sure what that agenda is and I am sure I would run things differently if I were in charge of the News, but it is what we have and I guess we just deal with them.

    The MnDot Woodley site is listed at 2.2 acres. My personal opinion is that it is too small for even a stand alone fire department. Access is not great either. I’m much prefer to see this site developed into a tax paying site. However, it now sounds like MnDot may decide to stay at this location either by constructing an addition to their shop, or constructing a totally new shop. It is off the Task Force site selection process. As to when the site was contaminated, I don’t have particulars on that. I don’t know what the use was prior to MnDot building there. If MnDot expands on the site I’m fairly sure they will be required to do some environmental cleanup. It most likely will not be a ‘full blown’ total cleanup as I noted earlier. I liken it to a school district deciding to encapsulate asbestos in a building rather than remove it. Everyone knows it must be dealt with at some time but it is assumed it can be dealt with more cost effectively at a future date when other—probably more major— work takes place.

    The current safety center is on a 2.0 acre site, and some of that is low and unbuildable. When you see how tight things are on that site you can understand why the site criteria prefers a 4-5 acre site. The Central Valley Coop propane site is 3.8 acres which starts to be a decent size. However, I think this site might offer excellent tax generating opportunities since it is right on TH3. Furlong Motors is probably the largest site under consideration at 6.4 acres. But again, I think this is an excellent tax generating parcel. It also carries the highest site cost of all properties still under consideration which makes it very difficult to deal with.

    1. Thanks for the additional info, Ray.
      Maybe this kind of information is all on the city website somewhere but if not, then I think there should be regular updates at the council meetings.
      So often, a process which IS important to the citizens does not have enough ongoing information, and then once a semi-final decision is made there’s some sort of public info session, but really… that’s almost too late, because the process always seems to have been completed for all practical purposes.

      There still seems to be a ‘fear’ of letting all the info pertinent to a public process be in the public realm. Some will say that’s because too many people have opinions. Some will say that the RIGHT people’s opinions are not, or were not , listened to; some will say we must magically find out the opinions of those who do not care to speak in public.

      I think it’s best to let all the public hassle and discussion be when the hassle and discussion is going on with the task force, or whatever the decision making group is; that seem so much better than having a decision made, then having a quasi-public evaluation process,and then having the decision makers blaming the pesky public for being concerned with the process.

      The new safety center site is a very important matter in a town which has only one fire station and is split in half by railroad tracks.

      Our volunteer fire dept does such a good job now; we have to support their being able to continue that good record. I’d listen longer to what they have to say about a location than the opinions of a general selection of the “usual suspects”.

  8. For those interested in the Safety Center Task Force, our next meeting is tonight, Thursday April 30th at 6:00PM at City Hall council chambers.

  9. At last night’s Task Force meeting the 4 remaining sites were reviewed again. We decided to list Furlong Motor’s as an alternate site, if it becomes available. We had a fair amount of discussion about the city taking a site like Furlong’s off the commercial tax roll, and about the potentially high cost of the site.

    The Task Force is conducting an open house at the existing safety center next week on Thursday, May 7th at 6:00PM. People interested in the work of the Task Force are urged to attend and learn about what we have been doing. The architect will be there with some displays.

  10. Thanks for the update, Ray.

    Today’s Nfld News:

    Four sites still in running for new Safety Center

    The sites — which include the current
    Safety Center site on Hwy. 3 and Fifth
    Street; Furlong Motors and the Central
    Valley Coop, both on Hwy. 3 S., and
    land behind Perkins on Riverview Drive
    owned by William Cowles — will be
    presented at an open house planned for
    Thursday.

    At Thursday’s task force meeting,
    member Jerry Anderson tried in vain to
    remove the auto dealership from
    consideration, saying Furlong is a
    viable business, and as such shouldn’t
    be taken from the tax rolls. This
    year, the auto dealership’s property
    tax bill is $72,600, according to Rice
    County records.

  11. What’s the ‘ backstory’ here?

    1.The Furlong site is being considered although it is not stated as being for sale…
    2. The site close to it where “sundowners” (trailers ) had been is for sale, but it is not being considered?…
    3.Are we still looking for a 4-5 Acre site if the police and fire services are split up?
    4. If those two services are split up, will additional smaller sites be considered?…
    5. Shouldn’t the decision of splitting up police and fire be decided, or else it is really complicates the matter to run two parallel processes ? …
    6. Will the answers to any of these questions be available at the open house?

  12. Kiffi, all good questions. There was a suggestion to remove the Furlong site from consideration based on its probable price, inability to reuse the building, and the reduction in tax base. After discussion members felt we should retain it as an alternate site ‘if it is listed for sale’. I’m not exactly sure what that means…does it need a real estate listing to be considered?

    Sundowners site was looked at briefly but is noted to be too small.

    Personally, I would like to see that we have a 4-5 acre site, as anything smaller will turn out to not serve future needs well. Our current site is just under 2 acres and as far as I can tell has been undersized just about from the start. A 4-5 acre site should give us lots of expansion options.

    Smaller sites could be considered if the facilities are split up. However, I’m not sure I’d support a smaller site as it would take away future options for facilities. For example, if a fire barn is constructed alone now, it might later get an ambulance barn. Or eventually it might come to pass that the Sheriff handles much more local policing powers and thus needs more space. I like the idea of a decent sized site to accommodate changes. Remember, as I’ve said several times at our meetings, 8 years ago there was no such thing as the Department of Homeland Security. Now they have space in our police department.

  13. Our open house was held last Thursday. Attendance was pretty low, but those that did come to it were able to see large maps of the sites under consideration. Wold Architects prepared good information.

    There will be a Task Force update presented to the city council on Monday, May 11th.

  14. I was at the SCTF open house last Thursday, and while I was there (6-6:45) there was only one other taxpayer, Curt Benson. That’s very unfortunate; this is a prime example of a process that the citizens should enter as it’s ongoing, rather than raising objections later.

    I had a long conversation with the Fire Chief, Gary Franek, who was, as always, both friendly and very informative.
    I am wondering why, if there is any consideration of separating the Police and Fire Services ( i.e. leaving the Police where they are , and building a new fire station ) why there is not a parallel process of looking for a slightly smaller fire station site, and even preferably two sites, the second one for the future?
    If this was anticipated in the process, we would not be in a bind looking for possible sites 15-20 years from now.

    This is the kind of planning the city seems loathe to engage in, despite all the talk of “planning”. After all, we just annexed 530 Acres to the NW: wouldn’t the prospective developers of that property want to know that there was a fire service site on the west side of the tracks?

    The problem with the sites being looked at is direct access to Highway 3; the Co-Op site would appear to be the best if it were not for the lack of Highway access, and if MNDOT wouldn’t allow any direct access there, then there’s a lot of frontage road rebuilding that would have to be done, and the ‘back’ road there winds through the motel and other businesses, past the ice arena, until it gets to a stoplight entry to the highway. An intersection with a stoplight is a big control factor for a fire engine entering the highway, i.e. the light has to have an emergency all- way stop feature for the fire engine.

    What did you think, Curt? What questions came to your mind?

  15. Kiffi, I hate to disappoint you, but I didn’t pay much attention to the site selection options. It did appear that the task force did a good job with the photos etc of the different sites. I came because I wanted a tour of the safety center.

    The question that came to my mind was “why has the city waited this long to replace an obviously inadequate safety center?”. Chief Taylor gave my daughter and I a tour of the police side of the center. He said it was built in 1971, when the PD had seven employees. The PD now has 28 employees. The largest room in the building is too small to hold all the staffers at one time. During meetings, some people have to stand outside the room, looking in.

    The officers’ offices and desk areas are way too small. There’s not enough room for the equipment they need, so things are stuffed under desks etc. There isn’t enough room in the building for storing things like recovered bikes etc, so there are portable storage containers outside. The garage can only hold two police cars at one time. The rest are stored outside–not a very secure arrangement. The server (computer) center is a closet sized room crammed with heat producing stuff, cooled with a jerry-rigged cooling system.

    The heating and cooling systems are antiques/ and according to Taylor need frequent repairs at the beginning of the heating and cooling seasons. There are portable fans through out the offices to try to keep people comfortable.

    I hope the new safety center stays at the top of the list of priorities.

  16. Curt : Thanks for the detailed description of the Police facility. I didn’t go over there at all because I knew that it was generally very small and overcrowded.

    Got any thoughts about the future? two fire stations needed ? Should the location be planned now?

  17. Last night the task force gave a report to the city council. We tried to recap what we have done, and talk about both sites and facilities. I pointed out a couple of things that Curt and Kiffi asked about in their postings.

    In my mind, building a new public safety center is a lot like building a new public school….something I’m familiar with from 15 years on the school board. In both instances you really have to wait until a facility is truly ‘bursting at the seams’ before you propose a remedy to the voters. If you do it too early, it will seem more like a ‘want’ tnan a ‘need’ and the voters most likely will not support the plan. So you let a school get totally stuffed with students, or you let a police/fire station get totally stuffed with equipment…and store some in other locations. Then the public understands the need.

    As Kiffi noted, the public did not throng to the open house we held last Thursday. We will have lots of work to do to educate the public about the needs of safety facilties.

    Regarding split sites, the task force is very much considering that option. We have one memeber that is not at all in favor of remodeling the present facility into a police station, but other members, myself included, are not ruling that out at all. The city built the building, has the plans and records about it, and can have Wold Architects do an honest reveiw of what it will cost to remodel it. As a building contractor I know first hand what can be done with buildings to adapt them into good reuse facilities.

    Kiffi, I understand your thoughts about looking for a second fire location now. Whiie I too think long range planning is wise, I also know that Northfield not only doesn’t like it, they generally don’t hold to it. A good case in point is our very problematic transportation system. We had North Avenue identified as the major east-west link in town for 40 years. It was to run from #19 west throug town, connect to #3 north and also connect on over to #19 east. Planning Commissions and Councils all ignored this well planned corridor and carved it up. Another example, the bridge over the river and RR at Jefferson Parkway. It was also planned for decades, but nothing ever done do facilitate it. In fact the city is their own worst enemy in this situation in that they put a ball field there. We have so many examples of things like this that I’d hate to bank on a 2nd fire station site right now.

  18. In the Sat. Nfld News: Task force hears options on Safety Center funding.

    It’s expected that the City Council on
    June 22 will begin discussing whether
    to put a bond referendum before
    voters, asking them to approve
    financing for a new center, expected
    to cost $10 million. Costs could be
    lower if partners, such as the
    Northfield Rural Fire Department, kick
    in some money.

    A bond referendum has its risks, and
    could be nixed by taxpayers, leaving
    the city empty-handed. Consultant Dave
    Callister from Ehlers said state laws
    don’t allow the city to put another
    referendum forward on the same issue
    for six months after one fails.

    In order to ensure a referendum is
    approved, task force members have said
    it will be important to make the case
    for a new center with voters. That,
    some have suggested, could include a
    special Vote Yes committee, charged
    with explaining the need for a new
    Safety Center.

  19. There have been no updates to the Safety Center Task Force page since March. GRRRRRRR.

    Posted to the Nfld News website yesterday at 2 pm: Task force winds down

    The Safety Center Task Force, when it
    meets Thursday, is expected to
    finalize its recommendations in
    preparation for a June 22 presentation
    to the City Council.

    Was that last night? The article doesn’t say, nor is there anything about an upcoming meeting on the City’s Calendar. GRRRRR.

  20. Now, Griff … one musn’t complain about one’s city website, or one’s city newspaper … or pretty soon “fairandbalanced” and the rest of the trolls over there will be telling YOU to take a hike to Afghanistan!

  21. The last safety center task force meeting was held last Thursday. We plan to make our recommendation to the city council on Monday, June 22nd.
    We are working with John McNamara from Wold Architects to ‘wordsmith’ the final recommendation that will be presented to the city council.
    We included language that suggests the city obtain engineering data to determine exactly what can be done with the existing safety center. That information will be needed regardless of what the city decides to build for a new safety center. Some on the committee, such as me, feel the existing safety center could be utilized for a police station and only build a new fire hall.
    We also are recommending two sites for a new safety center—the Central Valley Coop propane area, and the Cowles vacant land next to ArTech charter school. Either site is adequate for a facility.
    Finally, we are recommending that the city sell bonds for the building either using a voter approved levy, which I endorse, or using council approved capital bonds.

    I was slightly frustrated during the task force process that we didn’t have adequate information at hand about the existing safety center. While it has never been flooded, it is about a foot lower than what is permitted today regarding flood protection. That triggers some things such as possible limitations on how much money can be spent remodeling. I do believe the building was constructed to last longer than 40 years. I also like the idea of remodeling it into a police station because we would end up with about 45 percent more space for the police, giving us excellent future expansion possibilities.

  22. Ray : Thanks for all your work on the task force; sounds like you and Jerry Anderson have raised some good discussion points. I was impressed with your advice to council at the work session, and disappointed to hear Councilperson Denison claim to the council the following week that your views did not represent the broader Task Force’s opinion. This kind of adversarial positioning does not serve the public interest well.

    I do not understand the lack of information provided, as you cite it, about the engineering/construction of the current Safety Center. Considering the budget problems, it would seem irrational to not save money where it could efficiently be done, if at all possible.

    Given the growth of NF over the last ten years, with so much new housing both SE and NW, as well as the annexation of 530 Ac. to the NW, that would seem to at least seriously consider trying to leave the police at their current central site, and building one new fire station now, while at the same time designating a second site, for the near future, to the NW.

    Another area of confusion is the designation of the site on the north edge of the Co-op property IF MNDOT will NOT let you access the highway at that ‘curb cut’ … IF, as was said at the SC open house, MNDOT had absolutely ruled out that access point, and the fire trucks would have to wind around the back road by the motel, Village School, Polzin glass, the HRBlock strip, the ice arena, etc., to get out to the highway at the light… well that’s an awful lot of driveways, two sharp curves and a very narrow road! Can that road even ‘carry’ the fire trucks?

    There is a tremendous amount of information LACKING, and if the citizens are supposed to vote on a 10 MIL referendum, how can that all be understood and considered in the next few months, before the fall ballot would have to be established? I wish the newspaper would have followed this in more depth.

    There’s also the nagging concern of the problems Faribault is having with what I believe is the same consulting firm; that has been reported in the NFNews.

    Combine that all with the need for taxpayers’ $$ to be wisely spent while still providing the support for the firemen and police, and you have a real need for some fast and clear ‘sorting out’.

    Thanks, Ray … and Good Luck!

  23. The safety task force presented the final position paper to the city council last night. It recommends a new combined 45,000 square foot police and fire facilty be constructed on one of two sites in Northfield. The sites are the Coop land on Highway 3 and the Cowles property on Riverview Drive just north of ArTech Charter school.

    Over the weekend I just didn’t feel totally comfortable with the task force process. We did not have a chairperson and we tried to operate by consensus instead of voting on things. I guess with my years on the Northfield school board, a few as chairman, and my years in the Minnesota Legislature, I’m more comfortable with votes on issues. With that in mind I presented a ‘minority report’ to the council. It recommended that the current safety center be investigated and remodeled into a police facility, while also building a stand alone fire facility. If there are regulations in place that prevent the current safety center from being remodeled into a police facility, then I recommended building a separate police facility near the new fire facility. I did this for a number of reasons.

    First, the existing safety center has a lot of life left in the bulding. It was constructed in 1970 with an 80 year life cycle. I hate to see that ‘thrown away’. If the city doesn’t use it for a police station it seems we have only two options….1) demolish the building, or 2) use it for other city uses. If we demolish it we lose the remaining life of the building. If we keep it for other city uses we add significant operating costs to a very thin city budget.

    I also like the idea of separating the police and fire. All the communtiies we visited had separate facilities and they seemed to work very well. Separate facilties allow expansions for each entity over the years as needs change. They also permit good security for the different uses.

    I enjoyed serving on the safety center task force. It was a new idea the city had and I think it worked rather well. As I noted, I believe it would be improved by working with votes and a chairperson, but overall we covered a lot of good ground.

    Now the city will have to decide exactly how much they feel they can spend on a safety center, and if they are going to get voter approval for the expenditure.

  24. The NFNews article says”e-mails obtained by the NFNews” and then goes on to characterize those e-mails, in relationship to Mr. Cox’s opinion.

    I find this both disturbing and rather , shall we say, of ‘elusive’ credibility. I do not doubt that the e-mails exist, but if they are credible, valuable, provide insight, then why not quote them, and say how they were “obtained” ?

    There is way too much what I would call ‘snitching’ in information transfer to, and from, City Hall. Who does this; who provides this information that is only qualified by the News as “obtained”? Is this investigative reporting on the News’s part, or troublemaking on someone else’s part?

    Mr. Cox has way too much expertise to be a devalued opinion; you may not agree with his evaluation … but his opinion should be considered. Many of the issues he raised in his “minority report” have been raised by Councilor Buckheit, and are unanswered questions … maybe even un-investigated questions.

    I think it would be wise to remember that at one point , the OSHA repairs for the liquor store were projected to be over 300,000 (when a new site was being discussed), and then miraculously were done for about a third of that when it was decided to stay on the current site.

    With the cost of a new safety center having risen dramatically since it was first brought up in the Hay/Dobbs Space Needs Analysis… now up to close to 15 MIL, including the site purchase, then the most transparent process is essential to sell this to the voters. Let’s not be instilling doubt into the process, by the use of unidentified, “obtained” e-mails.

  25. I am dissapointed that the city is disgarding continual use of the current safety center for a police station only.

    Consider: The police department could continue to use the current safety center, the fire department could have a new building that would not be as costly.

    The police station could be remodeled as it is affordable, and the city staff could actually make a plan that they would stick to (Hvistendahl was quoted as saying that other building reuses in Rice County have resulted in cost overruns due to change orders. So make a better plan.)

    I cannot believe the city would abandon the current safety center unless there is something that I don’t know (is it sinking into the quicksand?)

  26. Jane,
    The Task Force has spent 3 months going over all the options and their recommendation to the council was to have the police and fire together due to cost savings–shared training facilities and opportunities for staffing. (Since our firefighters are volunteers there would not normally be anyone at the station to assist the public). Both the Fire Chief and the Chief of Police are interested in maintaining the good working relationship and the synergy that a combined facility provides.

    The assumption is also that choosing a site where there is room for further expansion would be in the long term interest of the city as we anticipate continued growth. The task force used projection numbers from the comprehensive plan for their deliberation.

    As for the current site, we will be proceeding with a small (est. $4,000) engineering study that will answer some of the questions regarding reuse opportunities. The study will look at the flood plain issues and possible mitigation. Cost will be a factor as the current site is below the flood plain. Dikes or other options will also put pressure on what is downstream.

    There are also restrictions on how much money can be put into the current site due to the flood plain issue–only half the value (appraisals vary slightly, but the restriction is a concern) can be put into remodeling the building. Yes, more questions need to be answered, but much careful work has already been done. I am very grateful for the work of the members of the Task Force, and look forward to guiding this project along–slowly, carefully and deliberately–so that we can find the best long term solution for our community.

    If you, or anyone else has additional questions that you think would help us make a good informed decision, please ask them now! This project needs to be one that the citizens of Northfield believe is necessary and that they will support as we move ahead.

  27. Thanks for your comment, Mary. I haven’t been following this issue as closely as I should be. (Too much time on the new zoning ordinances, and the selection of a company to do a master plan for a proposed business park.) I appreciate your willingness to interact with people here on LoGro and be accessible this way as well.

  28. Jane, I appreciate your comments as well. They show what a big education job the city has ahead if they plan to march forward with a joint $10-$12 million facility.

    My frustration on the task force centered on two things. First, it was clear that with city, chiefs, and other wanted the group to arrive at a recommendation for a combined new facility. If I would have known that this was predestined I would not have served on the task force.

    Secondly, the information on the existing facility that we need to make an informed decision was not available to the task force….despite the fact that city staff was discussing and planning for a new facility since last August. We should have had accurate data on the existing facility. When we pushed for answers, we had some very ‘strange’ actions. For example, staff suggested that we were limited to spending half the value of the building on a remodel. Brian O’Connell presented information one evening that included a valuation of $800,000 for the building. The problem with that is we had in our packets information from the Rice County Assessor that listed the value of the building at $1.9 million….quite a difference. So a remodeling could spend $400,000 according to city staff, but $1 million according to the Assessor.

    Brian also gave us information on a process that can be used to remove the site from the flood fringe area. This appears to be a very viable option to me, and one that would allow the city to remodel the building in any way they see fit.

    We all need to remember that this building has never been inundated with flood waters.

    There was also talk on the task force that ‘remodeling is a terribly tough thing to do and go through’. Some people may have had bad experiences with remodeling. As someone that does that work for a living, I know a well planned and executed remodeling job is no more problematic than any other construction project. The existing facility was constructed for municipal use. has been in that use for 40 years, and the city has all the records on the building. That makes it an especially good candidate for remodeling into a renovated police station.

    Finally, our courts present disenting opinions on rulings on a regular basis. Those disenting opinions are valuable and help set directions. A minority report from me is nothing more than a disenting opinion that lists reasons for considering an alternate action. I hope the city council takes it in that light.

  29. As a person who has chaired a rehab of a building sitting in both a 100 year and 500 year flood plain…. my question is, hasn’t it always been in the flood plain. Why is it now a major concern, especially if it has never been flooded.

  30. As a person who has been to all the council meetings where SCTF updates and reports have ben presented, and as a person who has seen this project come close to tripling since it first appeared in the Space Needs Analysis in 2007, I am really aggravated at the attitude that seems to be developing around Mr. Cox presenting his opinion as a ‘minority report’.

    I think there is no question of the need for a new fire station facility; the current one can NOT serve the equipment and first responders.

    I think there is solid reasoning to question a joined facility as a given; and even more reason to question negative conclusions about remodeling the existing facility to serve the police only, especially with the substantive questions raised, and the undealt with facts and history.

    Once again, we are dealing with supposed ‘facts’ that may go away when a final decision is reached. Don’t forget the projected OSHA costs for fixing the current liquor store, which went down to a third of what was originally presented. There appears to be what I would call directional spin on these projects; where does it come from?

    I don’t vote Republican, so this is not the word of a political supporter (full disclaimer, as Griff says) but Mr. Cox’s view should be of great value when he advises on construction matters. Or if one disagrees,make the counter argument with fact, not opinion… but once again we are falling into a mire of dissension without a clear presentation of fact.

    This group was represented as operating by consensus, it had no chair, and it was a very diverse group, by the participants own evaluation. But if there is consensus, there can be no minority report. Therefore, in fact there was NOT consensus, and when the dissenting opinion comes from someone as informed about construction as Ray Cox, then I think it should be taken very seriously, and not dismissed.

    At council work session updates, when Mr. Cox put forth concerns, they were not discussed then and there; this under the guise of just being an ‘update’ to the council. ‘Updates’ do NO good if they do not bring forth any issues to be solved, or at least dealt with, before conclusion. And indeed, one councilor put forth at a following meeting, that Mr. Cox’s opinion was not representative of that of the TF in general. That comment alone, not voiced when Mr. Cox was giving his ‘update’ at the prior meeting, should have engendered a clarifying discussion.

    If all the information requested had been given to the TF to work with, there may have not been what is now referred to as a “minority report”.

    Once again, we are in a public information snarl, that will make it very difficult to successfully fund a new public safety facility … either by referendum or council decision … unless it is cleared up , and brought into the realm of clear public support and acceptance.

    Our volunteer firefighters, who are even more vexed than the police by this cramped facility, deserve a clear direction to a solution.

  31. Ray Cox will be a guest on today’s Locally Grown radio show/podcast. It’ll air at 6 pm today on KYMN 1080 AM. I’ll have the podcast posted here on LG later tonight or tomorrow.

  32. Griff- I’m not sure how the local fire department is set up for reimbursement, but the ambulance team I was on in Iowa was considered a “volunterr” organization because we members did not hold our EMT positions as a sole profession. We were paid for the time we spent on each call, and all our training was paid for by the county. We could be “on call” 3 or 4 times during any given week, but were not paid unless we actually participated in an emergency call. I would assume the local department functions the same way, as there does not seem to be a staff at the station at all times of the day.

  33. I think John has it correct. We call the firefighters volunteers because they are not full-time paid staff. Unlike larger metropolitan areas that have paid firefighters, we use people that volunteer to go through the training to become firefighters. The firefighters all hold other jobs and respond as quickly as they can when called.
    I am not certain exactly what they are paid, but I believe the first 8-10 firefighters that respond are paid a nominal fee like $10 or $15 dollars. All the firefighters earn pensions that are calculated on years of service as a firefighter.
    We also generally have 2-3 firefighters that live at the fire hall. They sleep in the dormitory there and are obviously right there when a call comes in at night.
    Our firefighters do a great job. They consistently receive high marks on their training, understanding of fires, response time, and all the other things that are measured. Their good ratings give everyone in Northfield a good fire rating for property insurance purposes.

  34. Really good show on “Locally Grown”, the radio version, tonight.
    Ray Cox did a really good job of calming explaining why he felt it necessary to issue a “minority report”.
    After hearing the work sessions, council meetings, and this show, you have to just shake your head and wonder why all the pertinent information was not provided to adequately cover all the issues raised.
    What is the point of always leaving the feeling that there is a predetermined agenda?
    As Ray said, you only need to visit the fire hall to realize they must have a new space; there’s no question about that … but the other questions raised are solid and valid, and they are going to have to be answered or we are on our way to another fiasco … and it’s way, way more serious than a liquor store.

  35. AARRGGHH! #1:  It’s been over a week since the Safety Center Task force Final Report was presented to the Council and it’s STILL not available on the Safety Center Task Force (SCTF)  page. Nor are the minutes for the June 11 meeting.

    When I complained about this on our radio show/podcast today, Tracy said “Did you check the Council packet for June 22?”

    Sure enough, I found the report as an addendum to last week’s June 22 Council meeting packet. Why not have it where the public has been repeatedly directed to look for SCTF info?

    AARRGGHH! #2: The Safety Center Task force Final Report is posted as a photo copy PDF. A PHOTO COPY for crying out loud. Text can’t be copied/pasted from a photo copy PDF. It’s a picture! An image! Nobody can include text from it in a blog post or an email or a letter-to-the-editor or a column or even an article in the newspaper without having to manually retype it.

    Who’s responsible for this sorry state of affairs?

  36. I am still dissapointed that the “synergy” of keeping the police and fire together will cost millions of dollars. I know from experience that the ability to maintain and remodel the existing building will be less restrictive if it continues to be used as a police headquarters. This rush to spend millions so that the two chiefs can be together is a bit much. How about video conferencing and shared security/phone systems? What is wrong wtih Northfield’s creative juices? And why wasn’t the task force told that they MUST keep fire and police together (and WHY)? Send the fire chief and the police chief to a “team building” seminar so they can have synergy and a communication seminar so they can learn how to keep in touch with each other.

  37. I think when the general public gets wind of the BIG TOTAL that will come down from a major city expenditure of 10-15 million, and how that will affect everyone’s taxes, there will be a far more productive discussion that considers leaving the Police at the current site with remodeling; then giving the firemen ALL the room they must have for equipment and responders, in a very practical building.
    I’m voting for a super innovative use of pole barn materials, designed by Jay Jasnoch.
    I’d be willing to bet that he can design a building that is the most basic materials, but has such a great design that it lands NF square on the cover of “Architecture MN” as the smart little city that solved its money problems for a new firehouse with all the needed space in a brilliantly designed CHEAP building that the taxpayers afford, and thereby show their support for the fire department.

  38. In chatting with people this last week there seems to be a lot of support for the ideas brought forth in the minority report” They are sensible, and allow the taxpayers to support the needs of both the firemen and the police; rather than letting the whole combined project fail because of the 10-15 million dollar price tag.
    Here’s some things to consider:
    The current site should not be considered a ‘throwaway’ building without a lot more info on engineering, conversion costs, river issues, etc.
    The firemen need equipment space and responder space; they can’t function without those two things; they CAN function without a fancy building.
    None of the other town facilities the Task Force visited were combined(fire and police); WHY? not as efficient for enlarging to specific future needs?
    The time is too short for an education campaign to pass such a huge referendum;
    The time is not too short to educate to a more cost-effective solution, that will have community support.
    Commercial property owners are not the only ones who don’t want additional tax burdens in this troubled time; many residential taxpayers don want increases either…
    BUT …
    The firehouse needs are especially pressing…
    SO…
    go for a win-win solution that can be fully supported!
    Two separate facilities, one for police expanded on current site; inexpensive but large fire hall.

    Who knows, there might even be some extra $$ for fire equipment; that’s all getting very old also. The fireman’s story of having to wait months for a custom made radiator for one of the trucks( too old to obtain otherwise) was a tad scary.

    These guys deserve the best; let’s be smart about how to get it for them.

  39. Kiffi, I heard that some local business and building owners got together this week to discuss the Safety Center Task Force issues, as they all have similar sentiments to what you’re expressing.

    FYI, we’re hoping to get Councilor Kris Vohs back on our radio show next week to respond to some of the issues that we discussed with Ray Cox on our show last week.

    1. Griff, Much of what I was expressing is not just my thoughts… which by the way started with some conversations at the Safety Center Open House a month or two ago … but what was brought forward so clearly by Ray Cox, both at work sessions with the council, and in his “minority report”.
      It was disappointing to hear the council, that night, so firmly reject even the consideration of the raised issues in that report; obviously the group was not all in accord and operating by consensus, or there would not have been a “minority report”.

      There was also a statement made at that last council meeting when the SCTF report was given, and I’m paraphrasing here, ‘that the consulting architect wrote up the notes for the Task Force’s basic report’. Sounds to me like the big problem with the process for that group was the ‘no chairperson’ aspect. Not enough ‘hands on’, and not enough ‘hands off’.

      Another major problem is that this much needed expansion of the fire hall is just that: a much needed expansion of the fire hall.
      The health/safety issues are not those of the general public (Except as they may be impacted by the unwieldy crowding of men and machines in the current space); it is the safety of the FIREMEN as they try to respond/suit up while shifting those huge engines around. Remember, there are four rows of equipment and three doors to exit; very tight quarters, and of necessity men standing between those crowded rows of trucks.
      If you look at it, and have it explained to you while you’re standing there, it’s appalling. They must have a greatly enlarged facility, for THEIR safety… so they can safely provide for the citizens safety.

      What has NOT been dealt with on the reuse of the current site for police only is: just about everything!
      Task Force members say they did not have information on : structural engineering of the current building, DNR regulations and discussion with DNR, possible scenarios for re-engineering the fire hall space to add’l police use, validation for a combined facility when all the ones they visited were separate, the list goes on … and they even had to get their own records from the assessor as to the building’s value, because the number they got from staff was very low ( the value determines the amount of rebuilding that can be done according to the DNR).
      So the bottom line there is that some members felt they had not been given the information they needed to be good counselors for the community.

      The Council, which speaks at every meeting about the constraints of finances, must come to a FINANCIAL evaluation of NEED , and answer the questions raised; if they are able to do that, they may be able to move ahead on what seems to be a pre-determined course.

  40. There was a joint meeting of the NDDC and the Chamber this morning. The consensus was that a case has been made for need for more space, but that the case has not been made for $10 – $12 million of more space.

    Be expecting some resolutions from these boards shortly. It would appear that both boards are more aligned with the minority opinion. Call Ross Currier or Kathy Felbrugge to put in your ($700.00) opinion.

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