WILLMAR — The Willmar City Hall Task Force members believe they have finally found the perfect site for a new city hall. Across from Robbins Island, which has been called the crown jewel of the city's park system, with views of Willmar and Foot Lake, the current site of the Willmar Community Center could soon be home to not only a new community center, but Willmar City Hall as well.
"I think this really looks like it could be something," Mayor Marv Calvin said at Tuesday's task force meeting. "I would certainly wholeheartedly support bringing this to the council."
In addition to recommending the Willmar City Council approve the site, the task force is also looking for council approval to hire a construction manager and an architect, to really get the project moving forward. The task force is also planning to tour other city halls, some with community centers, to get ideas for Willmar's structure.
At its last meeting on July 16, the task force agreed to look outside of downtown Willmar for a site after the Willmar Fire Station site and Block 25 were declared unsuitable. The task force quickly landed upon the city-owned property of the Community Center site. With approximately five acres of available space, high visibility and access to both Business 71 and High Avenue, the task force wanted staff to take a look at the site before widening the search. What was presented at the Aug. 20 meeting made the task force pretty happy.
"It looks to me the lot can handle these two functions," said interim City Administrator Brian Gramentz. "It has a lot of pluses going for it. I am not coming up with any negatives."
Councilor Kathy Schwantes, chairwoman of the task force, said when previous sites were discussed, she would receive many public comments against the proposed sites. That has not been the case for the Community Center site.
"Complete silence," Schwantes said. "I have had not one negative comment about having City Hall at this site."
Three local construction firms — Terwisscha Construction, Bolton & Menk and Marcus Construction — presented information at Tuesday's meeting. Each had a preliminary plan on how a community center and city hall, both approximately 20,000 square feet, could fit on the site, the main question from the task force.
"The square footage of the buildings can be accommodated," said Jared Voge of Bolton & Menk.
While each site plan was unique, there were similarities, including keeping the city hall and community center in separate building wings and using outdoor space as part of the design, for example a stormwater pond with a walking path.
"There are multiple iterations. It comes down to what you want the buildings to do," said Bruce Peterson, representing Terwisscha.
Jim Bach of Marcus Construction said they wanted each structure to have its own identity, instead of being one large building.
"It was important to us to show two separate buildings," Bach said.
The task force was careful not to get bogged down by any building design talk at Tuesday's meeting, as that will come once an architect is hired. The meeting was to talk about the site only.
There is also no word on cost. There is $2 million designated in the Invest in Willmar local option sales tax to be used for a Willmar Community Center project. The community center sales tax subcommittee sent a letter of support to the City Hall Task Force, saying the subcommittee supports a combined project.
There will be discussion about what the buildings should look like, what they will be used for and what will be inside them. The task force is expecting those to be very interesting conversations — including just which building will have the lake view.
"I think it is going to be a creative discussion when it comes to who gets frontage to Robbins Island. I hope we are open to each other's comments when it comes to that," Councilor Fernando Alvarado said. "I'm excited about that."
Though the drawings presented by the construction companies were not detailed, the task force members liked what they saw and are looking forward to designing Willmar's next city hall and community center.
"I want to look at the big picture. I want your best thoughts coming forward. Try to be as creative as possible," Alvarado said. "This is going to be a 50-year building. We want it to be uniquely Willmar and we want it to be something people will want to come and see."