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Greater Bemidji Area Joint Planning Board: Building gets approval by JPB for Voyageurs High School relocation

Voyageurs Expeditionary High School is getting closer to relocating its school across town.

The Greater Bemidji Area Joint Planning Board voted unanimously Wednesday to approve a Conditional Use Permit for the former Kobilka's Sporting Goods building at 3724 Bemidji Ave. N. to operate as a school.

Voyageurs, a public charter school, currently houses students in grades 9-12. It has been at its current location at 102 First St. N.W., in the former Nash-Finch Grocery warehouse building (Union Square), since October 2005.

Voyageurs plans to have 10 employees and up to 65 students at the new location.

The former Kobilka's site includes two separate parcels that would need to be consolidated into one in order for the building to meet JPB zoning requirements.

The former Kobilka building's subsurface sewage treatment system has been the topic of much discussion at both the Greater Bemidji Area Joint Planning Commission and JPB meetings. The system, which was installed in 1999, was designed to accommodate building wastewater flows of 600 gallons per day.

Voyageurs has been unable to assess its current water usage, as the school shares a water meter with Giovanni's Restaurant, the current neighboring business occupant.

"The only concern I see with this at all is that the present system may be undersized to serve the sheer number of people that are going to use the property," said board member Tim Mountain.

Property owner Jeff Cwikla said he intends to overbuild the system and that hooking up to the city sewer system would be very costly.

"To expand the system, it would only be a couple thousand dollars. That's not a huge endeavor," Cwikla said. "It's pretty substantial dollars to get hooked up to city sewer if necessary."

Cwikla said it would cost roughly $50,000 to connect his property's sewer line to the Birchmont Drive sewer system, which is more than 300 feet away.

The other possibility, Cwikla said, although not yet researched, would be to connect to the sewer lines of Peterson Sheet Metal Inc., located nearby at 3728 Bemidji Ave. N. Cwikla estimated this would cost around $40,000.

"It seems like there are plenty of other private options that make more sense," Cwikla said. "It comes down to dollars."

The approval of a CUP to allow the building to occupy a school is contingent upon 11 conditions. Some of these include:

- The subsurface treatment system must be pumped and an effluent filter and alarm installed with the septic tank prior to building occupancy.

- The land owner or occupant must provide the JPB with quarterly reports of metered water usage for the property.

- If water usage for the property exceeds the 600 gallons per day design capacity for more than 10 days in any monthly period, the SSTS system must be abandoned and connected to the city central sewer system, or an approved design and installation of a new SSTS for the building must be required.

- A fence or other barrier at least 5 feet in height must be constructed in the rear of the building, to prevent outdoor recreation use, upon the SSTS prior to the building occupancy.

- The public recycling containers shall be removed from the property prior to building occupancy.

- The JPC must conduct a review of the CUP after one year of building occupancy.

Mel Milender assured the board he reviewed the situation of the SSTS very carefully.

"It will be intermittently used, only during the hours that the school would be in operation," Milender said. "It would be about 12-14 hours a day and there's no use on weekends. There are some opportunities for the system to rest. With close monitoring, we shouldn't be setting them up for failure."

"It's a much more sensible location from where they're at now," said board member Ron Johnson.