About 20 minutes after the dining room doors opened at the Northfield Community Resource Center Feb. 14, 76 people had already grabbed a plate of ham, diced sweet potatoes and fruit and sat down during the Community Action Center-ran Thursday’s Table.
“We feed everybody that comes into the door,” said Ivy Ainsworth, the program coordinator for the weekly free meal who was counting diners as they walked in, ranging in age from children to senior citizens.
There are about 160 regular attendees, she said. Two staff members and some volunteers from a list of 800 run it.
A short walk to the other side of the building at 1651 Jefferson Pkwy., Don Diehl and Charlie Pederson faced off at the ping pong table for the Valentine’s Day championship at the Northfield Senior Center and a group dove into an exercise class at the pool.
The NCRC, a hub for human and education service organizations, may soon be under new management.
Representatives from the Northfield Community Action Center, Three Rivers Community Action and the Senior Center — some of the groups that helped spearhead and finance the center that opened in October 2000 — presented their proposal to restructure the city-owned building’s management to the Northfield City Council at its work session on Feb. 12.
It was a response to a recommendation made by an ad hoc finance committee in 2011 that showed how the non-profit organizations could buy the building, according to the presentation.
The organizations decided they couldn’t afford to purchase it, but could afford to manage it.
“We’re very invested in the space, because our programs are here,” Senior Center executive director Lynne Pederson said. “We’re here every day. We really want to have more involvement and hands-on management of the building.”
The community center and meeting space has housed the CAC — including its offices, the food shelf, the secondhand store and other resources — Northfield Public Schools’ community education classes and early childhood programming, the Senior Center, the Three Rivers-ran Head Start Center, the Link Center and several other resources.
“It was very forward thinking and it still works,” Pederson said.
The NCRC was originally managed by a Governance Council with representatives from the city, the school district, Three Rivers, the CAC and Northfield Senior Citizens, Inc., according to background information provided in the presentation.
In 2004, the city assumed management and offered rent reductions, as recognition of the groups’ initial financial investment into the more than $6.6 million needed for the NCRC: $605,000 from the CAC, more than $1.3 million from NSC and $684,000 from Three Rivers.
Two of the four NSC leases offered around a $90,000 total discount in 2012, with 50 percent off of rent. The CAC receives $48,728 per year in rent credits and Three Rivers receives $33,558, according to the leases.
In addition, $2,200,000 of general obligations bonds helped fund the project, which were approved through a referendum vote on Jan. 27, 1998, where 83 percent of voters were in favor of issuing the money for the center.
Mike Thorsteinson, executive director of Three Rivers Community Action, said the organization isn’t going anywhere and is prepared for rent reductions to end in 2015, a stipulation under the current agreement with the city.
“If you’re a senior and you want to volunteer to do some reading in the classroom, you just walk down the hall to do it,” Thorsteinson said. “It has been a great place for us to be.”
The representatives’ recommendation was to return to the original governance model, where the city continues to own the NCRC and the Governance Council hires an outside management company.
“It [could mean] a higher level of responsiveness in troubleshooting the problems in the building,” Pederson said. “We know what’s happening and we know what the problems are.”
CAC Executive Director Jim Blaha said it will give the organizations more of a voice.
“If we return to the governance table with a sincere and detailed protocol on how we can relate with a professional entity involved, we should be able to do better at attracting more tenants and space users into the building,” he said.
Blaha said the services offered at the NCRC have economic value.
“Not only in the dollars and cents we’re generating, but in terms of the health of the community and in terms of helping and advancing the ingenuity and capacity of people who live here,” Blaha said. “We should ... be seen as not the beneficiary of the city’s largess, but equal partners.”
City Administrator Tim Madigan said that the council will probably discuss the proposal at a future work session to decide how to proceed.
“It’s a concept that has to be explored,” Madigan said.
Reach reporter Kaitlyn Walsh at 645-1117, and follow her on Twitter.com @NFNKaitlyn.