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Perham's old 4-H building — Now the new Productive Alternatives building

The old 4-H building, located on the EOT Fairgrounds at 400 Fourth St. SE, has a brand new purpose. Productive Alternatives, a nonprofit social services agency that provides services and employment to people with disabilities — including the people of Perham — has recently been in the process of acquiring the building.

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The old 4-H building, soon to be the new Productive Alternatives building, is located at 400 Fourth St. SE in Perham. (Elizabeth Vierkant/Focus)

This year has been one filled with construction and changes in the Perham community, and another large project is approaching. The old 4-H building, located on the East Otter Tail Fairgrounds at 400 Fourth St. SE, has a brand new purpose after being empty and for many years.

Productive Alternatives , a nonprofit social services agency that provides services and employment to people with disabilities — including the people of Perham — has recently been in the process of acquiring the building. On Monday, Sept. 10, they held a groundbreaking ceremony with all of their team members, symbolizing the start of the building's construction and renovation to come.

"It's been close to a year in terms of when we started looking for a different location," said Steve Skauge, president of Productive Alternatives. "After several hits and misses on buildings, we connected with the Perham school district… We reached an agreement with them to take it."

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Productive Alternatives team members hold shovels at the groundbreaking of their building on Monday, Sept. 20. (Elizabeth Vierkant/Focus)

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Skauge said that the building, which has been owned by the Perham School District, has been empty for several years. Because of this, it's in a state of disrepair and needs a lot of work. There's a lot of remodeling necessary, but that way, Productive Alternatives will be able to transform it into exactly what they need.

"We've been in the building we currently own (located on 802 Jenney Ave. SW in Perham) for 13 to 14 years I would guess," Skauge continued. "It's served us and our mission well, but our mission has changed."

He said that the Perham location specifically focuses on day services, meaning they provide those they serve with employment opportunities. In the past, Productive Alternatives brought work directly to its site for their members to complete. The workers would get paid for the amount of work they completed.

Now, Productive Alternatives has an emphasis on more community-based work. This means that those they service will work jobs throughout the community and be paid an hourly salary. Because of this, team members won't be working a full 40-hour week, but they still need day services.

"The changes we've made and are making are positive and provide better and more opportunities to people in general," Skauge said. "This is why moving is important. We have a different program. A new facility designed for this is exciting."

So, this building's new renovations will make sure to serve that new mission. This new space will include social, leisure and recreational zones rather than just a warehouse, since they don't need an industrial-type setting any longer. They also need spaces to help those they serve learn and practice self-help skills.

"Our building became something that wasn't conducive to what we're trying to do," Skauge said, explaining the difficulties of providing leisure in a warehouse setting that was designed as a workshop. "We're going to be completely moving over (to the new building). We're in the process of selling our old building."

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Construction has started on the old 4-H building to make it suitable for Productive Alternatives. (Elizabeth Vierkant/Focus)

Productive Alternatives has several other locations where they are making the same transition, such as in Fergus Falls, Alexandria and Brainerd. In Alexandria, they're even in the process of constructing an entirely new building.

As for the work on their new Perham location, Skauge said they plan to give it a complete makeover. Before the cold sets in, they hope to start some outside work as soon as possible. They'll be adding a garage on the building's west side, constructing parking lots, gutting the inside of the building to suit their needs and more.

"We'll be trying to retain some of the original beams," Skauge said. "It's a cool building… We're going to try to retain some of the original look"

He hopes for construction on the building to be done by the beginning of 2022. He also hopes that Productive Alternatives will be able to fully transition there quickly after the completion. They have been working with Hammers Construction through the planning process of construction.

"We're very excited about this as an organization," Skauge continued. "This building has sat empty for a while, and I think people will appreciate seeing it used for a good purpose and that it's a good thing for the community. Perham's always been really supportive, and I think this is something we can do to help the community in the context of seeing this building refurbished and reused."

Elizabeth (she/her), 23, graduated with a degree in Journalism and Communications from the University of Wisconsin–Stout in 2020. Elizabeth has always had a passion for telling stories about people and specializes in community features, which she uses for her Perham-centered content.
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