City hall, fire station reconstruction plans reviewed by Bemidji City Council
In its work session on Monday, the Bemidji City Council provided feedback on six proposed options for the future of city hall and the Bemidji Fire Station.
BEMIDJI — In its work session on Monday, the Bemidji City Council heard an update from Wold Architects and Engineers, and provided feedback on six proposed options for the future of city hall and the Bemidji Fire Station.
During its last meeting on the topic, the council was presented with six options for the buildings, which are both struggling with a lack of space and deteriorating conditions.
These problems were recognized last spring after the lower levels of city hall flooded and an inspection of both buildings revealed several other concerns related to drainage.
The six options presented to the council ranged from additions to the existing buildings to creating entirely new structures on a different site. Each of the options ranged from around $23 million to $26 million.
After considering feedback from the council from its last meeting, representatives from Wold returned on Monday to continue the discussion.
“We’re looking for council feedback here tonight, as much as we can get,” said Paige Sullivan, an architect with Wold.
Based on previous comments from the council, one of the requests was to provide a phased option that would allow for more time between the two projects, rather than tackling constructing two new buildings in one go.
This was done by breaking up Option 4a from the last meeting into two phases, with the first addressing city hall’s needs and the second focusing on the fire station.
“We were tasked with looking at how to break this project up a little bit, and 4a was the most desirable,” Sullivan explained.
Under this phased approach, a new city hall would be built first in the area currently used as a parking lot next door. This would allow for the existing city hall to maintain operations through most of the process before it would eventually be demolished.
This first phase would cost an estimated $11 million, though this number is using estimates for the 2024 construction year.
The second phase, which could be started at any point after the first, would construct a new fire station where the existing city hall stands and would include a drive-thru bay for the fire department.
The estimated cost for the second phase would be $15.1 million, leading to a total estimated cost of $26.1 million — similar to the non-phased Option 4a.
After Sullivan completed her presentation, several councilors had questions and comments on Wold’s work and the plans for the buildings.
Of all the options, 4a — particularly in its phased approach — was met favorably by the councilors.
“It seems to most closely meet what the fire department’s needs are,” said Ward 4 Councilor Emelie Rivera.
While not ruled out completely, the options that involved purchasing First National Bank’s property for the project were noted as less ideal.
“If we don’t have to take taxable property in this project, I’d prefer not to,” said Ward 2 Councilor Josh Peterson. “I’d prefer to leave that property alone.”
Councilors also discussed the option of a new site, one that could potentially allow for more growth. One of the sites discussed by several councilors as a potential was the rail corridor in downtown Bemidji, which also has a project in development for a community wellness center.
“I don’t know that one (project) has to happen at the expense of the other,” said Mayor Jorge Prince.
The biggest question the council had, however, was in regard to funding. With all of the options coming in at over $20 million, the cost was a topic of concern.
Several options were discussed, including pursuing state and federal money to help cover some of the project’s cost.
To these concerns, City Finance Director Ron Eischens explained that exploring funding options for the project will be a part of the ongoing discussions.
“(The city) can find the money to do little things, but when big things come it’s challenging,” Eischens said. “We have to figure out what we can afford to do, and based on that, what are we going to do.”
Discussions on the future of both buildings are expected to continue, as plans are developed and options are ruled out.