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School district approves cost shares for new elementary school

BEMIDJI—Bemidji Area Schools leaders unanimously approved two "memorandums of understanding" that outline the school district's expenses as it works to build a new elementary school and connect it to city utilities.

The first "MOU" approved Monday stipulates that the district will pay $1.1 million to cover its share of a $6.2 million roadway improvement project along a segment of Division Street, where Beltrami County staff plan to build a series of roundabouts and where the school district plans to build Gene Dillon Elementary School. The second memo is a agreement between the city, district, and county that caps the city's financial obligation at $508,000 for a two-phase project to extend municipal sewer and water services from Bemidji High School to the elementary's planned entrance near Becida Road. Under that agreement, the city would pay to have the lines extended from the high school to Adams Avenue, and the school district would pay to have them built from Adams to Becida before turning them over to the city, which would then take over the lines and their upkeep and maintenance.

Both memos were already approved by the other signatories, and are more formal pronouncements of agreements that were hammered out earlier this winter.

The board also approved a $916,000 "re-bid" roof for the planned school. A bevy of contractors bid on different chunks of the new school's design last December, but a technical error meant the bidded roof was incompatible with the walls. Six bids were submitted for the redesigned roof project: the highest was $959,773, according to document supplied at the school board's Monday meeting, and the lowest was the one awarded then.

To pay for the new fourth- and fifth-grade school, Bemidji-area voters approved a $40 million bonding referendum in 2014—$4 million of which would replace heating, ventilation and air-conditioning units at Bemidji Middle School and $6 million would advance capitalized interest on the bonds.

School board member Bill Faver said that he and, presumably, other board members felt the approval then meant the district was "done" getting the new elementary.

"I think the learning lesson, for me, is that this is a community project and if there is ever a next round and I'm involved...we'll begin these partnerships with the city and county right away when we start to have those city and county meetings on the referendum," Faver said. The district initially hoped to build Gene Dillon near Bemidji Middle School, but the project there got bogged down in red tape.

The school itself is expected to cost around $30 million from start to finish. School district staff hope to begin construction this spring and have the building ready for students by the 2018-19 school year.

"We're building this school for the next 80 years," said Anne Long Voelkner, the school board's chair. "I just so look forward to the springtime when the ground melts and we can have at it."

Joe Bowen

Joe Bowen covers education (mostly K-12) and American Indian affairs for the Bemidji Pioneer.

He's from Minneapolis, earned a degree from the College of St. Benedict - St. John's University in 2009, and worked at the Perham Focus near Detroit Lakes and Sun Newspapers in suburban Minneapolis before heading to the Pioneer.

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