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Time to expand?

Back in 2016, the Osakis City Council considering selling the Osakis Visitor Center but ultimately decided to keep the building. It will be open again this summer. (File photo)

Osakis City Council members have been discussing the need for a new City Hall space for nearly a year. The current City Hall building functions as the police department, the city's administrative offices and includes the water treatment facilities and municipal wells.

Council members claim the current City Hall isn't big enough to adequately house all of the various city departments and host the city council meeting every month. The question is, does Osakis already have the space to make it work or is a brand new building necessary?

At the March 12 city council meeting, some questions were raised about whether or not the existing space owned by the city could be put to better use.

People often wonder what's going on inside the squat, wide building known as the "Osakis Information Center" or "Visitor Center." Until last summer, the answer to that question was, "not much."

But last summer was the first year the Visitor Center stayed open seven hours a day during the week to answer questions, aid tourists and showcase small museum-like features about the history of Osakis. There is still a large part of the building that is used for storage.

The city owns the Osakis Information Center but the staffing and maintenance costs are paid through funding from private donations. Private funding has already been secured to staff the building for the summer of 2018.

Some citizens suggested turning City Hall into the museum and moving City Hall over to the current Visitor Center. The current City Hall building was built in 1936 and it has the potential to be registered as a National Historic Site, which would mean the federal government would shoulder the cost of maintenance.

"At some point, it's inadequate" councilmember Jim Snyder said. "The Visitor Center is inadequate. Are we going to just make this work and make our grandkids build a new City Hall?"

City Clerk and Treasurer Angela Jacobson agreed, saying, "We're a growing community. You won't find many places like us that are growing. Meeting here, it doesn't look like we are."

But some citizens at the meeting were concerned with the potential cost of building a new City Hall building. The Visitor Center has two enclosed offices that could be used by Chief of Police Chad Gulbranson and Jacobson.

Jacobson and Deputy Clerk, Lynnette Swenstad, could then hypothetically answer any visitor's questions about Osakis. Jacobson expressed concern about whether or not that would interfere with city and administrative work.

"I agree we should make better utilization of that space," Mayor Keith Emerson said.

"We will look like we're struggling," Snyder commented on using existing buildings. "I just think this generation needs to grab onto this and be forward-thinking."