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Future uncertain: Lack of federal funding has BSU no longer interested in old BHS property

An aerial photograph shows the old Bemidji High School property, now owned by the Bemidji State University Foundation, in the foreground and the BSU campus in the background. The Boys & Girls Club of the Bemidji Area is housed in the facility on the lower left. BSU is no longer interested in buying the old high school property. Pioneer File Photo/Monte Draper

It was a move that past Bemidji State University-Northwest Technical College President Jon Quistgaard called "the future of the University."

In 2007, after two years of negotiations, the BSU Foundation purchased the old Bemidji High School property at the corner of 15th Street Northwest and Bemidji Avenue North in Bemidji. The purchase of the property was to be a short-term venture to assist BSU in acquiring the property, but so far, a transaction has yet to take place.

According to Bill Maki, BSU's vice president for finance and administration, BSU is no longer interested in buying the site from the BSU Foundation, leaving the organization with a vacant property.

"We were confident we were able to get the bonding money for the property, but with changes that have occurred at state level, it hasn't been possible," Maki said. "We've come close to getting funding in the past. Now it doesn't appear that we have as good of a chance as we did even two years ago. We let the Foundation know they should seek alternatives in recouping their investment in the property."

The Foundation's $575,000 purchase of the old high school property included three parcels. The first parcel, 5.69 acres, which was the site of the A Building and the auditorium, was sold for $1. The second parcel, about 2.35 acres and located to the north of the first parcel, also sold for $1. The third parcel, 3.11 acres, was sold for $575,000.

Rob Bollinger, the BSU Foundation's executive director for university advancement, said the Foundation board of directors is in the process of setting up a meeting with new BSU president Richard Hanson.

"The old plan was formulated by Quistgaard over a number of years," Bollinger said. "Now we're working with the new president on the best way to approach the property."

According to Bollinger, the Foundation's initial plan was to have no development take place on the property in the immediate future. Eventually, the university would ask the state Legislature to reimburse the Foundation for the costs and the $575,000 payment to the district.

Maki said at this point BSU has no formal plan of purchasing the property and has given full discretion of the property to the Foundation.

"The financial environment did not work in our favor," Maki said. "Big changes have occurred in past five years, bonding money became more difficult to attain and the university is determining what size of footprint it really should have."

For several years the Bemidji School District discussed ideas of what to do with the old high school property, even entertaining the idea of a turning the high school building into a housing unit or building a new hockey rink in its place.

In 2005, BSU officials presented to the Bemidji School District's Board of Education with the concept of building a hockey arena and events center on the old high school site. A "Bemidji Leads!" committee's site search team recommended the old high school site as one of three possible locations for the Bemidji Events Center, but this didn't pan out.

"Quistgaard saw this property as potential growth since the university is land-locked with the lake," Bollinger said. "His plan was to have it available for growth for whatever building or program would be developed down the road for many years. He was investing in the future."

If the BSU Foundation decides to sell the property, the sale will likely be a $2 million-dollar transaction, "with the demolition and all the work with environmental studies," Bollinger said.

Bollinger said he is hopeful the future sale with BSU will work out so the BSU Foundation can move on to new projects.

"It is an ongoing process and it is now taking another turn with a new president," he said. "We will have to see what the future will hold."