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BHS alumni hope to save features from old high school

As the demolition of two buildings at the old Bemidji High School draws nearer, a small group of BHS alumni are hoping to save some decorative architectural features from the front of their alma mater.

Six graduates from the classes of 1944, 1960, 1964 and 1968 gathered for a meeting about the effort Tuesday at the Bemidji Public Library.

Sharon Fruetel of Bemidji, a 1964 BHS graduate who organized the meeting, said many people in the community, particularly BHS alumni, were sad to hear the old high school was going to be demolished.

"It seemed to be a good idea to have some pieces ... be preserved," she said.

Hazardous material abatement began March 3 in preparation for the demolition of the A Building and auditorium. Abatement is expected to be finished in May and demolition is set to begin that month.

The Bemidji State University Foundation bought about 12 acres of the old BHS campus last summer from the Bemidji School District for $575,000. The purchase included the A Building and auditorium, a vacant site where the B Building once stood and a stone maintenance building.

The foundation purchased the property and is paying for the abatement and demolition with the plan that the university will reimburse it for these costs. BSU, which plans to use the property for future expansion, is seeking $2 million from the state Legislature this session for the reimbursement.

In an interview earlier Tuesday, Andy Bartlett, associate director of communications and marketing at BSU, said the BSU Foundation has put forth bids for the demolition of the two buildings. He noted that bidding will open Thursday.

As part of the bidding process, Bartlett said the BSU Foundation will inquire how much it would cost to remove certain architectural features from the old high school. The funding to remove the features, however, would have to come from outside the university.

This "add alternate" to the bid package stemmed from Fruetel contacting BSU about her interest in saving features from the A building.

"That was something they were willing to do to help this effort out," she said.

Fruetel suggested saving three features above one of the front entrances of the A building: the balustrade; a decorative element above some windows; and the carving and short pillars at the top. She said these three features are included in the "add alternate."

Brainstorming ideas

Possible ideas to fund the project that were discussed at Tuesday's meeting included donations or advances from BHS alumni or a bank loan. Another idea suggested was to see if bricks from the old high school could be sold to help offset the costs of saving the features.

Tom Cooper of Bemidji, a 1968 BHS graduate, suggested saving a broader area of one of the A building's entrances including the pillars and arch.

Another feature on the building caught the eye of Norman Malterud of Bemidji, a 1964 BHS graduate.

"There are four cornucopias up there that are just beautiful," he said. "Those I'd really like to be saved."

The alumni also brainstormed how features from the building could be used if they are saved. One suggestion rising from Tuesday's meeting was to incorporate them into a landscape feature or garden at the new BHS campus.

Fruetel said the alumni who met Tuesday will wait to see the bid results. If they believe the funds to remove features from the building could be raised, they will move forward with the project, she said.

Anyone interested in being involved in efforts to save decorative architectural features from the old BHS may contact Fruetel at 751-3146 or