Thanks to the effort of several local companies, downtown Faribault’s historic district just might be a more inviting spot for a quiet afternoon stroll than ever before.
Last month, a special ceremony was held to celebrate the installation of 21 elegant new benches downtown. Spaced throughout the city’s historic district, each bench is unique and serves to highlight its own piece of Faribault history. The project is the culmination of years of hard work by the Faribault Main Street Design Committee as well as support from members of the community. While it received a limited amount of grant funding, the project relied heavily on community “sponsorships.”
Faribault Main Street Coordinator Kelly Nygaard said that additional seating had long been identified by the committee as a priority.
However, given the unique character of Faribault’s downtown historic district, she said that just any old seating wouldn’t do.
“(The committee) wanted something that would fit,” she said. “It needed to tell a story that’s connected to Faribault’s history.”
The committee quickly faced a challenge: no benches on the market remotely matched its vision. In order to get seating that truly reflected the rich history and cultural legacy of downtown Faribault, the committee would need to go its own way.
Fortunately, Faribault Main Street was able to find most of its partners without looking too far. While local companies MRG Tool and Die, and Mercury Minnesota wouldn’t typically make something like a bench, they were willing to work together on the project.
While it could only manufacture a back and seat, MRG created a basic prototype of the benches’ design. MRG President Rodney Gramse said that the company was able to then cut the bench pieces with a water jet and mold them with a brake press.
While MRG’s prototype showed the bench’s general structure, the bench legs would instead be designed and manufactured by Winona-based Alliant Castings, the only non-Faribault company to play a major role in the project. Alliant’s involvement was necessitated because committee members wanted a customized iron bench leg. While they considered utilizing antique bench legs as a potential solution, they weren’t able to get enough of them to make it work.
Similarly, few companies were able to produce cast iron bench legs in the quantity and quality desired by the committee. For Alliant, the task was not only outside of its typical scope of work, but the company had little working relationship with Faribault-area companies.
Still, Alliant was intrigued by the possibility of participating in a historic preservation project. It was able to reverse engineer iron legs which incorporate the city’s fleur-de-Lis symbol, and in a show of support for the project, didn’t charge for time and services provided.
“Their incredibly generous donation was essential to the completion of this project,” Nygaard said.
Mercury Minnesota was tasked with assembling and painting the benches. Mercury’s Marcus Adamek said that the company has long had a good relationship with the Faribault Chamber, and was pleased to be able to help out with this latest project.
“It’s a great addition to downtown,” he said. “The potential for Faribault to start something that other cities across the country may follow is really neat.”
In addition to basic construction details, each bench was adorned with art and photographs that makes them not only a simple resting place, but a destination and monument that tells the story of what Faribault once was.
For the design, the committee wanted an area resident with a rich background in both history and art. So it reached out to Jeff Jarvis, a local artist and historian who owns West Cedar Studio west of Faribault. Jarvis’s background in art ranges from the traditional to the more modern. He regularly practices and teaches painting and drawing, but he’s made his living in the graphic design industry. At times, he’s straddled the two mediums.
Jarvis’s passion for local history runs deep. He’s particularly focused on the rise of milling throughout the five-county Cannon River Valley throughout the mid-to-late 19th century, which spawned flour mills throughout the region as well as Faribault’s famous Woolen Mills.
With the help of the Rice County Historical Society, Jarvis tirelessly researched various interesting aspects of Faribault’s history. The Historical Society’s generosity ensured all but one bench includes not only text written by Jarvis but also an archival photo.
“Each bench really tells a story,” he said. “Without photographs the project wouldn’t have turned out as nearly as nice as it did, but they were gracious enough to let us use those.”
Jarvis, a Faribault native, said that the project was among the most unique and enjoyable he’s had the opportunity to be a part of. Once he submitted his designs, it fell to Adam Scholljegerdes of Sakatah Carvers, Signs & Creations to make them work.
Scholljegerdes said it wasn’t easy to fit the images and writing onto the bench in an aesthetically pleasing manner. Yet while each bench design posed its unique challenges, Nygaard said that the end result has been a resounding success.
“The benches combine function with seating, add a warm feeling to downtown, and tell part of our history,” she said. “They’re a beautiful addition to the district that blends seamlessly and compliments the design elements already there.”
Rice County’s Board of Commissioners started the process of piecing together their first budget of the COVID-19 era on Tuesday, with an eye to using fiscal restraint while maintaining or increasing funds for key services.
According to County Administrator Sara Folsted, county taxpayers could expect a levy increase of around 6.49% if the preliminary 2021 budget were to pass without any changes. That’s slightly higher than last year’s final increase but lower than last year’s initial projections.
“I would like to see it come down, but with everything that’s going on right now, I’m not sure how far we can move it,” said Commissioner Dave Miller, the board’s current chair. “Hopefully some more information will help us make a decision of where we’re going to be at.”
The board needs to approve a preliminary levy by month’s end. From that point, it can lower the levy by cutting the 2021 budget until December, when it’s required to approve a final budget, but it can’t raise the levy from the preliminary figure.
Folsted emphasized that given the situation with COVID, just how much funding the county will have to provide services, especially those mandated by the state and federal governments, remains uncertain.
“We’ll have to keep our eye on it,” she said. “This fall, we plan on communicating with the state what our needs are locally.”
At this point, the county is expecting fewer transfer payments when it comes to aid from the state, and the county will pay a larger share of public health costs. In addition to that, personnel costs continue to rise, with an increase of roughly 7%.
The Sheriff’s Department has also asked for a significant increase in funding to cover the cost of providing an additional shift. Folsted said that if budget constraints are sufficiently tight, the county may have to look at paying for that in another way.
The bill for the county’s business assistance costs is finally starting to come due as well, with several large projects now on receiving tax abatement. In addition, after falling last year, the county’s Highway Department budget is slated to take a sharp upward turn. County Engineer Dennis Luebbe told the board Tuesday that the additional investment in highway equipment is much needed. In order to keep up with maintenance needs, he said the board should plan on spending roughly $700,000 a year on equipment, a level it has not met recently.
“Over the last two years, we’ve been able to use bonding funds to pay for our capital equipment, and the year before that we used a big chunk of the fund balance,” he said. “Those are not sustainable this year.”
The board also discussed funding requests from various area nonprofits. Although the amounts requested by organizations like the HOPE Center and SEMCAC were small, many organizations have asked for increases this year.
Folsted urged the board to consider devoting a bit of money to help Lonsdale’s public library provide resources comparable to other libraries in the area. That won support from the board and especially Commissioner Jeff Docken, who represents the city.
Folsted also encouraged the board to increase and equalize funding for both the Faribault and Northfield libraries. Under her plan, both libraries would receive a flat $6,000 in assistance. Currently, Faribault’s library receives more funding than Northfield’s, though both receive less than $6,000.
“I don’t think there’s any rhyme or reason for why we’ve done that,” said Commissioner Galen Malecha, who represents much of Northfield. “I think it would make sense to equalize it.”
While it isn’t an independent organization, Folsted also encouraged the board to consider devoting $50,000 to the Rice County Housing and Redevelopment Authority. Given the housing shortage in both Northfield and Faribault, Malecha argued such a move is long overdue.
“We should definitely start doing that,” he said.
The Faribault Foundation has gained more visibility in the past few years, and much of that is thanks to Dee Bjork.
This month, the former executive director transitioned out of her role and passed the baton to longtime Faribault resident Kymn Anderson, who is no stranger to the community.
“We were very fortunate to have someone like Dee Bjork, who had such deep community connections, leading us,” said Richard Kettering, charter member of the Faribault Foundation Board. “You always worry when you’re going to have a change of leadership, and you’re going to be losing someone like that, but we were just so fortunate to have this smooth transition from Dee to Kymn.”
Bjork moved out of Faribault earlier this year and continued working remotely for the Faribault Foundation during the coronavirus pandemic. Her intention was to retire once work resumed in person. She felt it would be more appropriate for someone living in Faribault, like Anderson, to take on the leadership role.
Anderson has served on the Faribault Foundation Board for at least a decade and has taken on a variety of other roles in the community throughout the years. In recent years, she became involved in The Virtues Project-Faribault, which draws awareness of the way virtues impact individuals and communities.
“My history has been to be involved in things that are positive and things that have a positive impact on the community,” Anderson said. “... I’m a big believer people can make a difference with their involvement. Working for community betterment and community pride is something I’ve always believed in.”
Bjork said she considers Anderson to be a great fit for the role because her experiences within the community go back decades. She’s worked as a sales manager for KDHL Radio, served as Faribault Rotary president as well as president of the Faribault Chamber of Commerce and Tourism, and she’s earned recognition for her community activism with a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2018.
“She has a lot of friends and business associates to help grow the foundation, so it’s all really positive,” Bjork said.
Anderson commended her predecessor for instituting the Give 365 campaign, in which residents contribute $365 annually, or $1 per day, to small and big projects the Faribault Foundation sponsors.
“I just want to give proper credit and thank Dee for her years of service in leading the foundation,” Anderson said.
‘Without skipping a beat’
Under Bjork’s leadership, the Faribault Foundation also spent the past five years developing the Community Pride Grant program. Twenty six organizations benefited from the program, which serves residents of all ages in various capacities. Some projects have included the Buddy Benches that promote student interactions during recess, a mentoring program in which students help senior citizens navigate their technological devices, and aid for a local cemetery damaged by the 2018 tornado.
“That’s one great thing about the foundation it can impact the community in a lot of ways because it doesn’t have parameters of who we can service,” Bjork said.
This year, the coronavirus pandemic set the stage for new giving opportunities for the Faribault Foundation. Community Pride Grants this year benefited the Cathedral of Our Merciful Saviour’s Community Cafe, which offers a curbside pickup service for the time being. The grant allowed the Paradise Center for the Arts to present outdoor activities for children at Central Park, provided personal protective equipment for Infants Remembered in Silence (IRIS) volunteers, and funded Concerts in the Park.
During her tenure, Bjork said the Faribault Foundation became better known in the community thanks to social media and local events. Now retired, she plans to become more involved in her new community with volunteer work and other activities.
One of Bjork’s hopes for the organization is that community members remember the Faribault Foundation in their end-of-life choices in the form of endowments. That way, instead of worrying about how to acquire funding, organization members can instead focus on who to fund.
The Faribault Foundation started in an unusual way compared to many community foundations, Anderson said. While many foundations begin as a result of someone leaving behind a large legacy fund as a starting point, a Faribault Futures Class formed the Faribault Foundation after recognizing the need for such an organization.
Anderson plans to continue the work of the Faribault Foundation that Bjork led during her tenure but also implement new ideas. Many future plans, however, will depend on how soon the community can again gather in a normal capacity. One of her individual objectives is to educate others about the benefits of philanthropy.
To start, Anderson encourages anyone interested in serving on the Faribault Foundation Board to contact her for more information. The volunteers typically meet every other month, and while the service isn’t demanding, Anderson considers it an important contribution because board members help develop the organization and set priorities.
“We’re excited,” Kettering said of Anderson’s new leadership. “We (the board) think that she’ll be able to take the helm without skipping a beat.”