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Roosevelt's early childhood addition on track for February 2022 completion
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A lot of progress has been made since the Faribault School Board approved construction of an early childhood addition to Roosevelt Elementary a year ago next week.

The building, now rising from the soil below, is on track for a February 2022 completion. Classes are expected to begin next fall.

Construction began this spring, and overall the project has been moving along smoothly, with only minor bumps in the road, said district Buildings and Grounds Director Kain Smith.

Though the interior renovation was ahead of schedule, Smith says the actual addition part is a bit behind. After learning its steel manufacturer unexpectedly went out of business, Smith says the problem worked itself out, and Met-Con was able to take over.

The delay was very minimal (pushing it just one month back), compared to what it could have been. Outside of the steel issue, Smith feels fortunate that things have gone well so far and they’ve not come across any shortages in materials other projects have run into because of COVID.

An easier transition

The project will allow for the transition of McKinley Early Childhood into the new classrooms in 2022 and support the Early Childhood Department’s need for more space, expanded programming and a cohesive building to improved students’ transition to elementary school.

Prior to the board’s approval, Early Childhood Executive Director Olivia Sage shared ways the project would support the vision and mission of McKinley Early Childhood Center by providing high-quality early childhood education to all families in collaboration with the community’s early childhood partners. The addition would also allow McKinley to better fulfill its mission to provide support, encouragement and education to families.

It will represent an increase in square footage for the program, though not an increase in the number of classrooms. A fenced playground will be installed around the expansion, along with other landscaping. It will not include additional parking, as existing on-site parking is already sufficient to meet the requirements laid out in the city ordinances.

Sage explained how moving early childhood education to Roosevelt correlates with the McKinley strategic plan pillars of family and community engagement, student-centered learning, equity, mental health and safety, and school climate. Having one, cohesive building supporting early childhood through fifth-grade students will support the work of building upon relationships within home schools, she said. The multi-grade structure will allow for more partnerships with older students and provide continuity in the effort to have students well-read by third grade.

The additional space that comes with the project will increase opportunities for programming designed to help students socially and emotionally. Roosevelt will continue to share resources with the other elementary schools, Jefferson and Lincoln. Sage said one benefit being considered is access to a social worker.

The early childhood projects can be funded through a lease levy authority, and the school district can authorize a certificate of participation, which allows investors to be a part of the project. The district would then own the ground it was built on and pay off the lease with annual payments of $250,000 for 20 years. As a result, the tax impact would be $250,000 a year — an additional $12 per year to the average Faribault homeowner.

Last November, the board approved the issuance of $3.8 million Certificates of Participation, essentially is a 20-year lease agreement. The estimate of the true interest cost was 2.62%, so the district will spend about $182,000 less, $9,000 annually.

Early this January, the 6,500 square-foot expansion was brought to the Faribault Planning Commission since the area is zoned residential. A similar conditional use permit, issued in 1995, allowed for the construction of the school itself. In the end, the Planning Commission endorsed the $3.8 million project’s design with little concern, or discussion.

Commissioners asked to fill $325,000 funding gap for Northfield housing project
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A Northfield housing project appears to hinge on Rice County Commissioners approving $325,000 to meet an unanticipated funding gap.

According to Chris Flood, community development officer for Three Rivers Community Action, which is leading the Spring Creek townhomes II project, the agency was initially awarded $8.6 million to construct 32 housing units. Eight are scheduled to have two bedrooms, 22 are planned to as three-bedroom units, and two are to have as four bedrooms.

{span}Four units will be allotted for the Northfield Community Action Center. Another four will be for people with developmental disabilities through a partnership with Rice County Adult Services and Laura Baker Services Association.{/span}

To ensure the project’s affordability, 24 units will be home to residents making below 60% of the area median income. Eight will be at 30% or under.

But when Three Rivers first solicited bids for the Spring Creek II project, they came in about $2.7 million higher than estimated. But due to cost increases surrounding the pandemic, Minnesota Housing Finance Agency tax credits Three Rivers received also increased, allowing the nonprofit to accommodate the unanticipated hike.

According to Flood, the agency then had issues with its contractor and had to rebid the project in July, hoping that a stabilization of markets would earn it lower bids. But that, Flood said, didn’t happen. Bids were another $750,000 higher than the first round of bids in March.

And while there have been about $215,000 in cost reductions and the tax credits fill some of that gap, there’s still a sizable hole.

Flood told the board during its Tuesday meeting that while other reductions could be made, doing so would jeopardize the tax credits, awarded based on the size and number of units and its energy-efficient appliances, equipment and construction. Exterior finishes can’t be modified either, as they’re required by Northfield city ordinances.

According to documents given to commissioners, the Housing Finance Agency appears disinterested in upping its contribution further. The city has stepped up, providing tax increment financing; its Housing & Redevelopment Authority donated land, about 4.5 acres.

That leaves the county as Three Rivers’ best hope for the project in a county with a vacancy rate hovering around 1%

Flood hopes that the board will use some of its federal American Rescue Fund dollars allotted by Congress to help minimize the financial impacts of the pandemic, but board members had questions about timeline and why the project requires amenities like energy efficiency that the housing market typically doesn’t.

“It doesn’t make sense,” said Commissioner Jeff Docken.

Flood explained that the project received a score based on the inclusion of those amenities, and that excluding them now would likely threaten the tex credits, thereby killing the project.

Three Rivers hopes to break ground next spring, so it needs an answer fairly quickly.

The project is supported by the community, County Housing Manager Joy Watson told the board, adding that these units will give some Northfielders a place of their own.

“it will provide housing for individuals that might otherwise be in a group home,” she said.

The Board of Commissioners are expected to vote on the request later this month.

Allina cites safety, costs in appeal over Johnston Hall demo
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In a Friday letter to to the Faribault City Council, Allina Health appealed a decision denying the healthcare system's request to demolish Johnston Hall, a massive 133-year old limestone building that sits on the National Register of Historic Places.

The building, purchased by District One Hospital in 2008, became part of Allina in 2015, along with the hospital.

In the letter, Allina's South Market president Michael Johnston, explains that costs and safety necessitate its demolition.

"Rehabilitation of the building or a partial deconstruction of just the tower is cost prohibitive and directs funds away from patient care. We also have ongoing concerns about the safety of the building overall," he wrote.

A structural engineer's Aug. 31 report to Allina found the tower a hazard and in "imminent" danger of collapse, though there are significant issues throughout the building, including standing water, damp stone and disintegrating mortar. City Building Official John Rued has endorsed the engineer's findings.

Hospital officials have surrounded the building with fencing and vacated a portion of the hospital that could be impacted if the tower falls. That's meant the relocation of its pharmacy and is forcing patients to go outside to access care.

"These important safety steps are necessary, but are impacting patient care and operations and need to return to normal as soon as possible," wrote Johnston.

The building, constructed in 1888, was part of Seabury Divinity School, one of several visible reminders of the legacy of Henry Whipple, the state's first Episcopal bishop, a noted humanitarian and champion for Indigenous people. In 1862, Whipple appealed for clemency to President Abraham Lincoln, helping save more than 250 members of the Dakota tribe sentenced to hanging for their role in the 1862 US-Dakota War near New Ulm.

On Wednesday, the city's Heritage Preservation Commission voted unanimously to deny Allina's request for a Certificate of Appropriateness, which would have allowed Rued to issue a demolition permit.

Board members argued that decades of neglect by its various owners led to its current state and they weren't willing to be a party to its demolition.

Commission member Karl Vohs called it "demolition by neglect," and lamented the increasing number of Faribault buildings facing the same fate. In October 2019, the former Columbia Hall on Third Street NW was razed, along with a neighboring structure, to make way for a city parking lot. A city consultant estimated costs to return the building to a safe, usable condition at $3 million.

County officials have signaled their intent to demo the former Faribault Woolen Mills store on Fourth Street NW and Second Avenue NW. Though not on the National Register, the building is considered a piece of the city's history.

According to County Parks and Facilities Director Matt Verdick, the roof has water damage, visible through holes in a ceiling, which predate the county's ownership. There's apparent water damage to the exterior as well, with bricks bulging from the western wall.

Even if the council upholds the Heritage Preservation Commission's denial, Rued, as building official could step in and issue a demolition permit based on the imminent threat.

"Allina has a responsibility to do something (to abate the hazard)," city Community and Economic Development Director Deanna Kuennen said Thursday, "and we have a responsibility to make sure they do something. But it's not our responsibility to tell them how."

The Commission suggested removing just the tower, but Johnston's letter makes that clear it's not something Allina wants to pursue.

In December 2018, Allina agreed to give the city two years to market the property. The following year, a developer was interested in converting Johnston Hall to a chemical treatment facility, but a partnership with providers proved unworkable. Allina approved two six-moth extensions to the agreement, telling the city the current extension was its last.

Kuennen has said the size of the facility and the pandemic have hindered efforts to find an interested developer.