June 19, 2008

Cloquet Officials Riled About Low Site Ranking

By Lisa Baumann, The Pine Journal, Cloquet, Minn.

Jun. 19--Cloquet city officials got riled up Tuesday about the low ranking of the city's downtown site on a list of potential locations for a new Carlton County Human Services building. According to a site evaluation matrix, prepared by associates at Wold Architects and Engineers in St. Paul, the downtown site was ranked fourth out of five.

Wold Associates Lynae Schoen and John McNamara recommended the site next to the County Transportation Building in Carlton as their number one choice. Wold has been commissioned to conduct a site evaluation and prepare a schematic design for the new facility.

A final decision on a site has not been made by the Carlton County Commissioners, but last week, Site Selection Committee members said they could be ready to make a recommendation as early as during the regularly scheduled meeting of the Carlton County Board of Commissioners at 4 p.m. Monday, June 23 at the courthouse in Carlton.

"It's just confusing," said City Council Member Deb Hill, to a room of equally-baffled cohorts at the working session meeting.

"What could be better use than to redevelop [the current] sites?" asked David Bjerkness, council member. "[The whole decision process] seems secretive."

Most of the council members were flummoxed about how the criteria was scored. Cloquet's preferred site for a new facility is where the current Carlton County Public Health and Human Services buildings are located on the 1300 block of Avenue C near Cloquet City Hall.

"I'm at a bit of a loss as to how the criteria was scored for much of it," Brian Fritsinger, Cloquet city administrator said.

For example, general public access was marked as neutral, which Bjerkness and others did not understand.

"With the majority of the people coming from Cloquet to use the services, that just doesn't make sense," he said.

The downtown site also scored negatively in the expansion category, which Bjerkness questioned.

"You can plan for expansion going up, not out," he countered.

The downtown Cloquet site was also marked as "negative" regarding safety.

"How could safety be negative when you're by the police department?" council member Tom Proulx asked.

Wade Lamirande, Cloquet police chief, said moving the county services out to Carlton would create a burden for his department.

"The majority of the other services -- police, schools and transportation -- who work with [human] services are in Cloquet," he said. "I know we meet with them once a week and now we'd have to [travel] to do it?"

The new facility will house county offices including health and human services, county assessors, auditors, recorders, soil and water, along with the department of motor vehicle licensing and other possible departments.

Council member Herb Johnson said he visited with the licensing employees Tuesday and said they had no interest in moving out of Cloquet.

Many councilors said they thought the site selection committee was rushing the decision without much input from the public and the users of the services.

Keeping the process vague could be a way of keeping any opposition away, Bjerkness said.

"I think [the Site Selection Committee] is struggling," said Neil Nemmers, councilor. "I don't know where they're coming from."

Mayor Bruce Ahlgren said the city's concerns were for the users.

"We're not trying to gobble up the county," he said of wanting the new facility in Cloquet. "We're just trying to provide [services] to our citizens."

Fritsinger and several city councilors will meet with county representatives on Friday to discuss their concerns.


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Copyright (c) 2008, The Pine Journal, Cloquet, Minn.

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