South St. Paul sets bonding priorities

On June 19, the South St. Paul City Council unanimously approved a resolution to send the state its bonding requests. 

The three bonding requests to be submitted are funding for expanding and upgrading the South St. Paul Library and Learning Center; Concord Street improvements from Wentworth Avenue to Annapolis Street East; and Seidl’s Lake Storm Water system improvements. 

City engineer Chris Hartzell said the state funds some types of capital improvement projects through issuing general obligation bonds. 

Hartzell said these bonds fund projects that fit certain characteristics, such as being aligned with state priorities, having a public purpose or being publically owned, or being of regional significance.

“Gov. [Mark] Dayton wants projects that address life and safety issues, preserve and repair existing infrastructures, [or] minimize construction tails and operating costs,” he said.

Hartzell said the state also favors projects where cities have “some skin in the game,” such as committed money. The requests will be sent to the Legislature July 17.

 

Top priority

Of the three projects, the library is priority number one.

Kathy Halgren, library president, said in an interview the first South St. Paul Public Library opened in 1922 in the Fitzgerald building on Grand Avenue. Due to success and the need for more space, a new library was proposed at the current Third Avenue location. That library opened to the public in the fall of 1927 and remains in use.

Last year, LSE Architects completed a mechanical assessment and space study of the current state of the library. Halgren said the study revealed a variety of areas in which the library was not up to code, primarily due to the building’s age. Halgren added the needs and expectations of the library in the community are changing. 

“Public libraries are evolving into community centers for people to gather to share ideas and learn together,” she said.

Halgren said the project, as described in the bonding request, would bring the building up to code and modernize the facility while focusing on energy conservation, supplying current technology and more. The work would also expand the library by nearly 5,000 square feet, bringing it’s total size up to around 17,000 square feet.

The preliminary request is for $6 million, Halgren said, and the timeline in the proposal is January 2019 through December 2022. This timeline includes design development, public meetings, site and building preparation and construction.

Hartzell said the city has applied for bond requests for improvements at Seidl’s Lake several times. Preparation for the Concord Street project started last year.

 

Council support

Council member Todd Podgorski said he thinks each of the projects is worthy, noting they have been discussed by the city for years.

Regarding Concord Street, Podgorski said it’s a major thoroughfare moving goods and people, and he was bullish on the storm water upgrades as well.

“Storm water, that’s coming from different communities into Seidl’s. I think that’s got more of a multi-city jurisdictional piece,” he said. “It’s hard to argue against clean water.”

He said he finds it interesting the library and learning center was included because it’s widely considered to be local, and is curious how the state is going to view it. 

City Administrator Steve King said South St. Paul does have a number of people who make low incomes, and the role of the library in regards to school readiness could be a factor for the state.

King added the library is on a site adjacent to a countywide museum, the Dakota County Historical Society. 

“That takes it out of being purely a South St. Paul venue. It’s got a lot more reach than that,” he said. 

Halgren said the South St. Paul Library, as an affiliate of Dakota County Libraries, shares the same catalogue as other libraries. This means the materials go out to other libraries within the county, as well as state. 

“I think in that respect we are regional because we are supplying libraries around us, throughout the metro, and in some cases the state too,” she said. 

Hartzell said there has been a good precedent of funding libraries through bonding bills. He said he thinks it’s reasonable to include the project.

Council member Tom Seaberg, who was acting mayor at the June 19 meeting, said it doesn’t hurt the city to apply, while Hartzell said there’s no guarantees any of the city’s requests will be granted by the Legislature.

“You have to apply in order to ever perhaps get a bonding request,” he said. “If you don’t even try you won’t get one.”

 

Hannah Burlingame can be reached at 651-748-7824 or hburlingame@lillienews.com.

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