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Ribbon cutting opens new council chamber

owatonna city council, new chambers, ribbon cutting
Owatonna city council members and staff cut the ribbon last week to formally open the Charles S. Crandall Center. Officials met there Nov. 7 for a “soft opening” to shake out any bugs in the new technology. Staff photo by Joni Hubred
Joni Hubred, News Editor

Owatonna city council president Greg Schultz still remembers the day officials started to talk about making some needed changes to the council chamber.

“We got lots of complaints about the sound. That was the first trigger to get us going,” he said. “People can’t hear, they can’t see… we have to do something.”

He and former council member Les Abraham met with city administrator Kris Busse in her office at City Hall. Abraham went home that night and drew a sketch of what the new chamber might look like, and “it’s pretty close to what we have here today,” Schultz said.

Officials met at 4:30 p.m. on Nov. 21 to officially open the Charles S. Crandall Center. They voted earlier this year to name the space after Crandall, who was instrumental in bringing the Minnesota State Public School to Owatonna and is considered the “father” of the school. It operated as an orphanage from 1886 to 1945, then as a school for children with developmental disabilities.

The facility closed for good in 1970. The City of Owatonna bought the campus in 1974, and council members held their first meeting in the former chamber three years later.

The seven-month renovation project reoriented the dais, improved broadcast capabilities and sound within the chamber, updated the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system, and enhanced safety and security. It also included a connected building that houses a large meeting room and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant restrooms. An ADA-compliant entry connects the two spaces.

Schultz described the new chamber is a “40-to-50-year project.”

“We wanted to be good stewards of the taxpayers’ money and do a room that would last for a long time and be a benefit to the city,” he said.

Busse praised local contractors, who “really took pride in their work and really had great craftsmanship.” She also thanked city staff who worked on a project that didn’t always go as planned.

“With a historic building, there’s always unknowns and things you have to work through,” she said.

Parks and Recreation director Jenna Tuma took a leadership role on the project. She said it was special from the beginning, because “it is the home to our council. We wanted to make them proud.”

Tuma thanked volunteers Ann Peterson and Nancy Vaillancourt for working on a historical display that will document not only the renovation but the history of the space from the 1970s.  

“You could tell this was nothing but joy for them,” she said.

While the project “had a few challenges to it… what really makes it special and gratifying is the teamwork that had to come together,” Tuma said. “We had to work together as a team… We had to dig deep just to work through and sometimes those were really, really hard conversations.”

She also praised the city’s “top notch staff… We are just busting at the seams with attention to detail, willing to dig in, willing to do something that’s not their job to make this happen,” she said.

Busse also pointed out that the Owatonna Public Schools board of education has also started using the new space.

"What a great sharing of resources,” she said. “I think that’s a huge win for the community as well.”

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