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BREC head visits with community

Bob LeBarron, left, the executive director of the Bemidji Regional Event Center, is introduced to the Bemidji community during a meet and greet Monday evening before the Bemidji City Council meeting. LeBarron is pictured speaking with, from left, Bemidji City Councilor Ron Johnson, Councilor Kevin Waldhausen and Ken Cobb, a member of the Downtown Development Authority. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper

The Bemidji community was introduced Monday to the executive director of the Bemidji Regional Event Center.

The Bemidji City Council hosted a meet and greet with Bob LeBarron prior to the convening of its regular meeting.

The council later introduced LeBarron and invited him to speak during the portion of the meeting dedicated to BREC updates.

"I'm looking forward to working with everybody in town and everybody on the council to make sure (the BREC) is the type of facility and the type of venue that the community wants and has been asking for," LeBarron said.

LeBarron was the unanimous choice for the BREC position of five finalists interviewed. He most recently was the associate director of the event center at San José State University, a position he had held since 2007.

LeBarron said he arrived in Bemidji one week ago.

"The community is a great community," he said. "Everybody I've met so far has been enthusiastic about the project."

LeBarron currently has an office at Bemidji City Hall.

The BREC now is fully enclosed, according to Gerry Domino, the senior project manager for Kraus-Anderson, who updated the council on BREC construction.

Ninety-nine percent of the building is now enclosed, he said.

"Right now, the big push is to get the roof finished up," Domino said, explaining that the roof should be done within three weeks.

While the exterior of the building had been running behind schedule, Domino said, the interior work was running a few weeks ahead of schedule.

Getting the building enclosed, then, puts the project back on schedule, he noted.

"We're in excellent shape in the interior of the building," he said.

Inside, walls are now going up in the portion of the facility reserved for Bemidji State University. Also, crews are working to prepare the convention center for its under-floor heating system.

The council approved $192,416.47 worth of change orders for the building on a 6-1 vote; Councilor Barb Meuers was opposed.

The budget for the BREC had an initial contingency fund of $4.6 million. Now, there is about $2.5 million remaining.

Councilor Roger Hellquist asked Domino if there is enough of a contingency fund left to finish the BREC.

Domino, stating that about BREC is about 40-45 percent done, said there is enough money available.

City Manager John Chattin said about $1 million - perhaps a little more - will be used to purchase the scoreboard for the BREC and also an LED-lit sign along Paul Bunyan Drive.

Furniture, fixtures and equipment also need to be purchased for the BREC, but Chattin said FFE is a budgeted item.

"We really have to watch the change orders from here on out," Chattin said.

Domino said Kraus-Anderson, Widseth Smith Nolting and Leo A Daly staff all are aware of the budget and are "watching the dollars."

BREC board

The council, earlier in its meeting, approved three appointments to the BREC Advisory Board: Bill Maki, the vice president of finance and administration, to represent BSU; Gayle Quistgard, the VisitBemidji executive director, to represent VisitBemidji; and Ken Howe, the owner of Dunn Bros. and a member of the Bemidji Area Chamber of Commerce, to represent the Chamber.

Already appointed to the BREC board are Chattin, Finance Director Ron Eischens and Councilors Greg Negard and Kevin Waldhausen.

Resident Greg Paquin addressed the council and asked that he be considered for the advisory board.

He would "work with issues of plurality and affirmative action in hiring and staffing," Paquin said.

Paquin read a letter that he sent to the City Council asking for a spot on the BREC board.

"I also would like to be able to review the past performance of VenuWorks Inc. policies that I would hope reflect this community's commitment to offering employment and business opportunities for development of prospects for such a large native Anishinabe regional workforce and poverty-stricken region of northwestern Minnesota," he said.

Paquin filed a lawsuit Oct. 22 in Beltrami County District Court alleging the city of Bemidji didn't follow affirmative action in hiring workers for the BREC. Named in the suit are the city, the state Department of Employment and Economic Development, which administers the state bonding grant used for construction, and Kraus-Anderson Construction Co., construction manager for the project.

Hellquist, who did not address Paquin's request specifically, said he heard from city residents who wanted to have a citizen representative on the board.

He said it would be a good idea to include such a board member in the near future.