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Board approves Gene Dillon utility bid; groundbreaking for new school set for March 27

BEMIDJI—Bemidji Area Schools leaders approved Monday a bid to build proprietary water and sewer lines to a new elementary school.

The School Board unanimously voted to award a $1 million bid to Reierson Construction Inc. to build the utility lines from the site of Bemidji High School west along Division Street to Becida Road, where the school district plans to build Gene Dillon Elementary School.

The district opened four bids for the project last week, the lowest of which the board approved on Monday. Sam Anderson, a project engineer at Karvakko engineering, and Chris Leinen, the school district's director of business services, did not recommend that the board approve a $76,000 "add alternate" that would have extended the utility lines 350 feet along Adams Avenue.

Under an agreement inked earlier this year, Bemidji's municipal government will pay for the lines as they run from the high school to Adams Avenue, and the school district would pay for them to be built from Adams to the school site. Documents supplied at Monday's board meeting put those costs at $487,000 and $551,000, respectively. The school district's cost is just underneath the $600,000 or so staff there had estimated for their portion of the utility project.

But school district leaders' work isn't done yet: Bemidji Area Schools still needs to sort out when the Gene Dillon site will be annexed by the city and enter a broader development agreement with the city that includes planning requirements from the Greater Bemidji Joint Planning Board.

The School Board, City Council and Beltrami County Board of Commissioners all signed on to a pair of cost-sharing agreements that outline who pays what for the water and sewer line project and a multi-million dollar road improvement project along Division, which could see several hundred new drivers if and when the school is built there.

The district's "furniture, fixtures and equipment" committee has also been meeting regularly to make some ground-level decisions about the new school: will rooms have desks or communal tables? How might the school incorporate American Indian design elements?

Superintendent Jim Hess said members will have "ideation" sessions this spring and start nailing down decisions next fall.

Groundbreaking is March 27

Beyond the utility extension decision, the School Board also scheduled a groundbreaking ceremony for the new school for 4:30 p.m. on Monday, March 27.

"I'm amazed that we're here," Board Chair Ann Long Voelkner said with a chuckle. "This is fabulous."

Bemidji-area voters approved a $40 million bonding referendum in 2014, about $30 million of which would go to the new school project.

Named after a longtime school board member who died in September 2014, Gene Dillon Elementary School would serve students in grades 4 and 5. School district leaders hope to have the building open in time for the 2017-18 school year.

Joe Bowen

Joe Bowen covers education and health for the Bemidji Pioneer.

He is a Minneapolis native and a 2009 graduate of St. John's University. Before moving to Bemidji, Bowen covered education, local politics, crime, and everything in between for the Perham Focus in Perham, Minnesota, and Sun Newspapers in suburban Minneapolis.

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