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Concordia dedicates Russian village

MONTE DRAPER | BEMIDJI PIONEER Lara Ravitch, left, dean of the Russian village Lesnoe Ozero, and Warren Schulze, Concordia Language Villages' director of operations, stand outside of Lesnoe Ozero's recently completed Sankt Peterburg building, which now boasts a new great hall, classroom and meeting space, and an impressive entryway, in addition to the previously existing dining hall and kitchen.

BEMIDJI - Welcome to Russia. Or, as Russians might say, добро пожаловать.

Concordia Language Villages dedicated its Russian village -- Lesnoe Ozero -- Saturday afternoon as Yury Y. Melnik, second secretary for the Embassy of the Russian Federation to the U.S., delivered an address.

The dedication celebrated the completion of Sankt Peterburg, the main entrance building to the Russian village. An addition of approximately 3,800 square feet was finished about a month ago, featuring a great hall -- known to villagers as Mariinsky Theatre, named in honor of the historic opera and ballet house in St. Petersburg -- classroom and meeting space, and a vast entryway.

The addition expanded upon a dining room and kitchen, a project completed in 2006.

Accented in bright shades of blue, yellow and red, Sankt Peterburg features architectural elements throughout its interior, including high ceilings, embellished with yellow pine woodwork.

"There's a lot of this kind of decorative work done on Russian country houses," said Lara Ravitch, who since 2005 has served as the dean of Lesnoe Ozero. "What we have here is sort of inspired by the Russian style."

The great hall will serve many functions, mainly as an indoor gathering place for villagers.

Ravitch said it already has hosted folk dances and large singing activities. Recently, the village celebrated Maslenitsa, sort of a Russian Mardis Gras, with activities spread throughout the property.

"The kids had an outdoor market sort of thing where they would buy different dishes, pancakes and different fillings," she said. "So we had tables and wandering musicians and face-painters. Having this space really enabled us to have that traveling market feel."

Since Lesnoe Ozero also hosts adult programs, the room will be a focal point for visitors, offering, for example, a place to host conferences.

"It has a really great built-in sound system," said Melissa Rademacher, associate director of annual giving and alumni relations for CLV. "When we're not in the summer session, we can still use it year-round."

CLV long has operated a Russian language camp, but until 2005 it was run at a variety of leased spaces. A permanent home was established on the north shore of Turtle River Lake -- opposite other CLV villages -- after Concordia purchased a resort, A Place in the Woods, and converted it into the Russian village.

"It's been incredible to just have the ability to design things around the space that we have and really be able to direct and enjoy the space," Ravitch said.

Warren Schulze, for eight years CLV's director of operations, said given the woodsy nature of the resort, with seven log cabins and six other buildings, it was a natural choice to host the Russian village.

In constructing Sankt Peterburg, the goal was to emulate an old Russian hunting lodge, rustic on the outside with an eclectic mix of belongings and furniture inside.

"That's typical of Russia in the post-Soviet era," Ravitch said. "Things are a combination of whatever you may have inherited or picked up, all of the things that were mass-produced in the Soviet era and things that have been bought more recently."

The great hall features one of two Russian-style wood-burning fireplaces, or stoves, complete with accessory wood-storage areas. On the walls aside the storage bins there are five semisphere-shaped cutouts. In Russia, a child would climb up those steps to the ledge abutting the chimney, where he might lay down and sleep for a while.

The fireplaces were dedicated to former Lesnoe Ozero deans, Laurie Iudin-Nelson and Chuck Ritchie.

The Sankt Peterburg project, which broke ground in September at a cost of $1.6 million, was designed by Architectural Resources in Hibbing, Minn., and built by Lundmark Construction in Bemidji.

"We like to keep that business local if we can," Schulze said. "We want to support the Bemidji community."