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Helmut Schmidt, Published February 28 2012

Fargo School District to run Bluestem Center

FARGO – The Fargo School District on Thursday will take over the operations and maintenance of the cash-strapped Bluestem Center for the Arts in south Moorhead.

The school board approved the measure 8-1 Tuesday, one of four initiatives aimed at stabilizing the finances of the arts center and giving its fundraisers a chance to pay off nearly $5 million in debt on the home of the district’s Trollwood Performing Arts School. In the meantime, the Bluestem nonprofit group’s members will be asked to focus their efforts on fund-raising, rather than running the center.

Dave Olig, president of the Bluestem board of directors, said the changes herald “an exciting time.”

“It takes us to a place to where we can move forward in a positive manner,” Olig said, though he cautioned that many details must be worked out.

Board member John Strand voted against the measure, saying he didn’t want district taxpayers to be on the hook for Bluestem costs, and would prefer making an appeal to the community for donations to clear the center’s debt.

But board member Rick Steen shot back that the district was already legally on the hook for the costs.

“What is your plan? What is your solution?” Steen asked. “Are we going to live up to those commitments” or will the district renege?

The Bluestem nonprofit owes the district about

$2.7 million for an interest-free loan and $2.1 million for bonds. When the nonprofit failed to make a $286,000 bond payment in December, the district was legally obligated to pay the installment. That put the Bluestem group into default on an agreement with the district.

Early budget assumptions given to the board indicate that the district may have to come up with $573,000 for this year’s bond payments, and $200,000 to $300,000 for operating expenses and special assessments. It was assumed Bluestem will bring in enough revenue to pay operating costs.

Other initiatives approved include:

Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583