Otsego Council approves Prairie Center remodel

by Dawn Feddersen-Poindexter

Contributing writer

The Otsego City Council approved funding for the Otsego Prairie Center remodel and repurposing at the regular meeting on July 8.

In 2012, Otsego moved most city offices to the public works building across the street and it became the new City Hall. Council members had a lot of ideas about what to do with the old City Hall, which was re-named the Otsego Prairie Center. They commissioned the Prairie Center Reuse Committee, which has been meeting since December to determine the building’s new purpose and what changes needed to be made in order for that to happen. In the meantime, they set aside $326,000 for the project without fully knowing what it would eventually entail.

Now that they have a design and a plan for the building, they’ve learned that the final costs for the project will be closer to $450,000, which is $124,000 more than originally anticipated, plus the costs of furniture, equipment, and fixtures, which haven’t been determined yet.

City Administrator Lori Johnson told council members that they had funds available in the Community Facilities Fund and the Revolving Capital Improvement Fund. Though a $480,000 project to improve Darkenwald Landing had been previously approved and budgeted in the Community Facilities Fund, council members felt that they were unlikely to proceed with it for at least a few years.

Council Member Vern Heidner was concerned about only some of the project meeting the intended use of the Community Facilities Fund, which does not have an ongoing revenue source. In the end, the City Council agreed to fund half of the shortfall, or $62,000, from the Community Facilities Fund, as much of the work is maintenance and building improvements, and the other half from the Revolving Capital Improvement Fund.

“The community is gaining a fantastic community space for a very low price tag. It’s a huge amenity for residents,” Johnson said.

The renovation will make repairs to the 20-year-old building’s heating, air conditioning, roof, and existing building issues that have been causing water damage. It will also make the facility accessible for people with disabilities and capable of hosting community events, classes, and clubs. The renovations are expected to be in time for the Otsego Prairie Festival on Sept. 13.

In other matters, Johnson was recently contacted by the Guardian Angels organization in Albertville to be the conduit for obtaining $9.5 million in tax-free bonds to fund their construction of a new facility.

Johnson told the City Council that it was a very common practice and that legal documents would be drawn up to ensure the city had no legal obligation to the debt. The transaction would not affect the city’s ability to incur debt if necessary after the current calendar year or the city’s bond rating.

Council members approved a policy for issuing conduit debt, should they choose to assist Guardian Angels, which they will decide at their next meeting on July 22.

The benefit to the city would be nearly $50,000 in fees with very little staff time spent on the process.

The City of Albertville was unable to assist Guardian Angels because it is planning to issue debt this year for its own projects and going over $10 million in a single year would result in a higher interest rate. The City of Otsego is not planning to issue any debt this year so the Guardian Angels project would not affect any plans the city has.