The Fort Calhoun City Council voted to enter into a memorandum of understanding with Fort Calhoun Community Schools (FCCS) for a cost-shared planning study for a new community building during a special meeting Aug. 28.

The FCCS board approved the memorandum during its Aug. 12 meeting.

A planning study would explore how the city and school district would share the space of a new community building and how each entity would use the building. The study does not require the city or school district to commit to construction.

A USDA planning grant could partially fund the study. The USDA would fund 50 percent of the study while the city and FCCS would split the remaining cost, with total costs not to exceed $30,000. The city would be the lead entity applying for the grant.

"The city would end up owning (the building) because we are the entity taking the stuff on," council member Bob Prieksat said.

The FCCS board has discussed improvements to the community building before. At its June meeting, the school board voted to close the building's basement to the public because the condition of the area was deemed unsafe.

Should the city and FCCS continue exploring community building construction following the study, a new building would likely be built instead of updating the old building.

Mayor Mitch Robinson said the city would have use for new space at the site where the current community building sits at 124 S. 11th St., including the potential for new city office space or a new city council chamber. FCCS officials indicated they could use the building for recreation and preschool space, which would free up more space at the elementary where its preschool is currently located.

"Eventually, we will have to do something as a city," Robinson said in agreeing to the study, adding the current council chambers, located in the city library, are often near capacity during meetings.

If people were unable to attend meetings because of limited space, the city could run into issues with Nebraska open meetings laws, which guarantee the right of citizens to attend and exercise their privilege of speaking at public meetings. The city hasn't, however, had any issues in complying with open meetings laws thus far.

City Engineer Lucas Billesbach of JEO Consulting said many communities have used cost-sharing grants like the USDA one the city and school district will apply for, including Arlington. Robinson said joint-use of the building might make receiving grants easier.

Council member Lori Lammers asked what would happen with the planning study should the two entities fail to receive the USDA grant. Robinson said the city and FCCS would discuss further options should that outcome occur.

Though the planning study does not require a commitment to construction, a new building could be constructed between 2021 and 2024.

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