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Old MnDOT building could soon be vacant

Changes are anticipated at the former MnDOT building on Paul Bunyan Drive.

The former Minnesota Department of Transportation facility now houses city and Bemidji Fire Department vehicles and provides office space for the North Star Chapter of the American Red Cross.

MnDOT exchanged ownership of the building with the city of Bemidji on Nov. 15, 1999, in exchange for the city providing water and sewer lines to serve the new MnDOT building on U.S. Highway 2 West. The Red Cross began leasing office space in the building from the city in 2003.

The city vehicles on the site will be moved to the new Public Works Facility when it opens next year.

The potential remains for a new Fire Department substation at Northwest Technical College as city and NTC officials continued to explore the possibility. NTC is now looking into its needs, and another meeting will be arranged once school administrators have more information, according to City Manager John Chattin. If a substation at NTC is constructed, it would likely house the Fire Department vehicles now at the MnDOT building.

And now, the Red Cross is looking at alternate sites to house its operations. Executive Director George Stowe said the Red Cross is looking to leave the MnDOT building by October.

He said the Red Cross, which also has an office in Brainerd, is looking at other properties in the area, but "would like to stay in Bemidji" and does not now have a primary location in mind.

The Red Cross, he said, "would love to have a permanent home" but also is considering a gamut of choices, including making a temporary move first.

"Everything is open," he said. "We're looking at all our options and trying to do what is in the best interest of the community."

The Bemidji City Council has not lately discussed any plans for the MnDOT property. During Monday's council work session, staff said it generally costs the city between $70,000 and $80,000 annually to heat the building.

Stowe said the city informed the Red Cross that it does not plan to heat the building this winter, so the organization has been working to find a new or temporary location by October.

"The city has been very good to us," Stowe said. "They've kept us in the loop the whole time."

The Red Cross moved to the MnDOT facility from its former location on Fourth Street Northwest, where the Bemidji Community Food Shelf now is located.

"We simply outgrew it," Stowe said. "That's going to be our largest challenge - finding a large enough space that we can afford."

The Red Cross now has five offices for its staff and volunteers and a classroom, he said.

"It's a nice facility," he said. "I can't say enough about the cooperation we've had from the city. They've been very gracious."