St. Boni seeks to scale back community center plan

By Lorrie Ham

The city of St. Bonifacius will go back to the drawing board in an attempt to come up with a feasible plan for the community center remodeling project, which involves converting the former public works garage adjacent to city hall to a community center.
At the Aug. 21 council meeting, a four-member building committee, comprised of city council and planning commission members, was appointed to oversee the development project and to bring a lower-cost recommendation back to the city council.
Earlier this month, the city council unanimously rejected all three bids that had been submitted, saying the cost of the project had gone well outside of the budget. The low bid was $239,800.
The city’s planning commission, which has been working on the details of the renovation, subsequently voted to encourage the council to move forward with the development and to vacate the current community center building (old city hall) due to safety issues.
“We put an initial plan together at a cost of $105,000,” said Planning Commission Chair Fred Keller. He said that discussions with the city inspector, in addition to added on projects like new carpeting and flooring in city hall, along with patching and repairs of the front of city hall to match the new construction and an outdoor water fountain, led to the increase in the cost of the project. According to Keller, the planning commission was given a budget of $140,000 to work with.
The planning commission went one step further by requesting the city to vacate the current community center building due to safety issues. The back stairway of the old city hall is of particular concern, said Keller.
“I am still on board for developing the new space,” said Mayor Rick Weible. But with reservations on the books through the end of the year at the current facility, he didn’t feel the building could be vacated at this time. “The people who use the facility are aware of the condition of the building,” he added.
As far as the new development, Weible said the project should be scaled back to a baseline shell with the city responsible for the flooring, water, sewer, bathrooms and possibly air conditioning.
“We don’t need a vestibule or some of the other amenities that are included in this plan,” said Weible.
As far as painting, cabinet work, countertops and other finishing touches, Weible felt that civic groups and other community volunteers should take on some of those responsibilities.
“This will allow community members to have some ownership of the center and get recognition for their contribution,” said Weible. In addition, Weible encouraged citizens to make a donation to a local non-profit group earmarked for the community center project.
To get the project moving, the council directed staff to accept bids for a new floor in the center. The bid will be two-fold – first to remove the existing floor and do cuts to accommodate plumbing needs, and second to fill the concrete floor.
Bob Smestad and Rick Weible volunteered to represent the council on the building committee, with Fred Keller and Mary Bishop offering to represent the planning commission.
In another matter, the council appointed Dan Whitman of Whitman Assessing to serve as the city’s assessor. The contract will take effect Sept. 1 and be pro-rated for the first year.
Earlier this year, the council accepted the resignation of City Assessors Michael Schachterle and Michael Sheplee effective June 1. The move came after Hennepin County denied some St. Boni city assessments due to errors involving single-family detached homes which have pulled building permits since 2007. Schachterle and Sheplee said age, health and available time to conform to the county’s upcoming systems conversion and implementation drove their decision to resign.
The State Board of Equalization had originally recommended a 100 percent revaluation of the city’s properties for the 2014 assessment, instead of the usual 20 percent. The council thought that was extreme and asked the board to relax its recommendation.
In an e-mail to the city earlier this month, Hennepin County Assessor James Atchison said, “it depends.” He went on to propose that the city contract with the county for assessment services like more than half of the other county municipalities do.
“I will not vote to have Hennepin County be our city assessor,” said Councilmember Joe Arwood. “I am completely opposed to entering an agreement with the county. I’ll take my chances on an outside assessor.”
As an outside assessor, Whitman has experience in many communities across the state and is also an instructor, said Weible. “As a small community, we seem to do better with someone with experience in other cities as well,” said Weible, noting the expertise of other city contractors, like the city engineer and city attorney.
Weible said he didn’t think the 100 percent revaluation was necessary. “It was a recommendation, not a requirement,” he said. The city would see pretty quickly how far the assessments were off by evaluating 20 percent of the properties each year, he added.