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Vying for state dollars

The shuttered Fergus Falls Regional Treatment Center in Fergus Falls, Minn. Also known as the Kirkbride Asylum, the complex became vacant in 2005. David Samson / Forum News Service1 / 3
This drawing shows the proposed expansion of the Runestone Community Center in Alexandria. The new addition is shown on the left side of the drawing. (Rendering provided by JLG Architects)2 / 3
3 / 3

Following a series of community input meetings on the possible repurposing of the old Perham High School, community leaders gathered at the monthly Committee of the Whole meeting to see what may be the next move.

From the city's perspective, the momentum at this point is a $10 million bonding request. This being a bonding year, the city agreed to go the Minnesota Legislature with a bonding request and to request a local option sales tax. The requests could raise no more than $20 million to be used towards repurposing or demolition of the high school as well as improvements of the Perham Area Community Center.

The city won't know if they are funded the money until May, city manager Jonathan Smith said.

It was noted at the committee meeting that there are three bonding requests from this region including an $8.9 million request to demolish the state mental hospital in Fergus Falls. All but the main tower would be demolished. Prior to the decision to demolish the structure, plans were discussed to repurpose the iconic building, with costs around $40 million, according to the Forum News Service.

Alexandria has the other project, which involves the expansion of the Runestone Community Center's ice rink. The plan calls for $4.4 million in bonding for the $8.8 million expansion project. The project is estimated to bring an additional $7 million annually to that community, according to the Alexandria Echo Press.

Smith said while there is some competition, all projects have an equal chance of being heard and voted on. Perham Economic Development Association director Chuck Johnson said a big part of this funding success involves the area legislators going to bat for the community project. He added that the easy part may be getting funding, the difficult part would be putting together a business plan that works.

Smith added that a difficult part of the business plan is that only about 60,000 square feet of the 130,000 square foot building is leasable.

In a handout to members, three options were explained for the future use of the high school building.

Option A: Repurpose the entire facility with an estimated cost of 10.5 million. That included remodeling the building to house different entities that provide services to families; add a lobby and construction area to auditorium and; add spaces for community meetings.

Option B: This involves repurposing the entire building and building a gymnastics/kids fitness facility. This includes all options from Option A plus the addition of a gymnastics/kids fitness center. This would cost about $11.2 million.

Option C: This involves demolition of parts of the facility and repurposing of the rest. This may involve demolition of the eastern side of the building, including the three-story structure. It would add a lobby to the auditorium and expand set construction area in current gymnasium; addition of a gymnastics/kids fitness center and; repurpose remainder of building for different entities. This would cost about $6.9 million.

Mayor Timothy Meehl said he was in favor of Option C. He said some community members felt the idea was being pushed down their throats, but the community meetings, in his eyes, were more of a chance to get help from the community on how to move forward. He also heard from some that the tax burden was going to hurt the community. He felt the local option sales tax, which equals .50 cents per $100 spent in the community was not going to hurt much. That tax is not used on groceries or clothing.

Smith said at this point community meetings focused on the project will continue.

Contact the project coordinator, Emily Dreyer, with ideas at thehub.perham@gmail.com.

What is the "Hub"?

The repurpose of the old Perham High School as well as the redevelopment of the Perham Area Community Center could create a central location of community activities, a "Hub." The buildings would focus on family, addressing physical activity, cultural needs and care by bringing in a variety of groups including nonprofits and for-profits under one roof.

A group of stakeholders meets every other week to talk about the possible future of the Hub. The group hired a point person, Emily Dreyer and a consultant Cap O'Rourke, both with a private donation. O'Rourke is working to network with state officials in the hopes of securing a $10 million bonding request for the project. The group has presented to the House and Senate bonding committees.

The cost to remodel the PACC could be up to $8.7 million, while the cost to refurbish the high school could cost $10.5 million, a total nearing $20 million.

In other topics the committee heard:

• Landmark Liquor saw an 8.5 percent increase in January sales over last January.

• PACC election results were in. Twelve people showed interest in the three open seats and 175 ballots were cast. Top vote getters were Tina Rasmussen (122); Tony Stoll (115); and Maggie Fresonke (73). This was an increase in interested board members and voters over past years. Mayor Meehl mentioned that 10 new exercise bikes arrived at the PACC recently.

• Heard a road construction project by Tuffy's may begin at the beginning of April.

• The Perham Fire Department had 19 calls for service in January.

Michael Johnson

Johnson is a graduate of Verndale Public School. He earned his associate's degree from Central Lakes College with an emphasis in English and natural resources. He earned his bachelor's degree from Minnesota State University Moorhead, where he graduated cum laude in 2008. While there, he double-majored in English and Print Journalism. He's reported for The Advocate, student newspaper of MSUM; The Barnesville Record Review in Barnesville, Minn.; Clay County Historical Society in Moorhead, Minn.; Gillette News Record in Gillette Wyo.; Underwood News in Underwood, N.D.; and The Leader-News in Washburn, N.D. and the Brainerd Dispatch in Brainerd, Minn. Johnson has worked as a reporter for the Pioneer Journal and Perham Focus since Nov. 2017.

(218) 640-2312
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