WILLMAR — The two groups that until now had been working separately on the Willmar City Hall and Willmar Community Center projects met for the first time together Tuesday as they begin moving a combined project forward.

"I think this is really exciting, to have us all together," said Willmar City Councilor Kathy Schwantes, who chairs the City Hall Task Force. "We have a wonderful opportunity ahead of us."

The proposed project is a combined Willmar City Hall and Willmar Community Center building, to be constructed at the site of the current Community Center on Business 71, across from Robbins Island Regional Park. The estimated budget is $10.5 million, which includes $2 million in revenue designated to the Community Center from the local option sales tax that was approved by voters.

At its inaugural meeting, the task force and the Invest in Willmar Local Option Sales Tax Community Center Subcommittee decided which members will review and score the proposals that have been received from firms interested in becoming the construction manager and the architect for the project.

Willmar Interim City Administrator Brian Gramentz said the city received 10 construction manager proposals and 14 from architect/engineering firms.

"We had a really good return on proposals," Gramentz said.

Based on Gramentz's timeline, the proposals will be scored by Jan. 29. The highest scoring firms will be interviewed by group members the week of Feb. 10. Once the two finalists are chosen, they will have to be approved by the Willmar City Council.

"It is a process," Gramentz said.

Those who volunteered to score the proposals and to help interview candidates are a mix of city staff, council members and community members. Allowing community members to have a say on who is hired to design and manage the construction project was seen as important, as the local option sales tax was a community-driven endeavor from the beginning.

"It is important for the community to know that it is just as much community member-driven as council-driven," said Jan Dahl, Community Center Subcommittee member.

The two groups will continue to meet at least monthly once the architect and manager are hired. The group decided to have a standing meeting time of 5:15 p.m. on the first and third Mondays of the month at the Willmar Fire Department.

"As we progress through this, and working through the details with the architect, they will be able to move as fast as we can get answers back to them," Schwantes said.

All members of each group will participate in the merged meetings, to make sure there is plenty of input and ideas shared.

"As we are designing and providing input, you all have spent the time to do the tours and it has been a commitment already. I think it would be appropriate everyone have a voice," Schwantes said. "The more eyes we have, and the more fruitful discussions we can have about those decisions that need to be made, the better the final project for our community."