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Helmut Schmidt, Published April 10 2012

Bluestem decision delayed two weeks

FARGO – Any action on a new operating agreement for the Bluestem Center for the Performing Arts must wait two more weeks, as Bluestem fundraisers have yet to vote on the plan, the Fargo School Board was told Tuesday.

The school district is mulling whether to pay off $2.1 million in bonded debt taken on by the Bluestem group to build Bluestem Center for the Arts in south Moorhead, board President Jim Johnson said.

Paying the bonds off now would save interest costs, Johnson said, but that move depends on whether Bluestem signs off on the operating agreement, which calls for the district to run the arts facility while Bluestem focuses on raising money to pay off the center’s debt.

Bluestem was built as a regional arts facility and home for Trollwood Performing Arts School, a Fargo schools program.

The proposed agreement calls for the $2.1 million, along with a $2.77 million interest-free loan to Bluestem, and $108,000 still unreimbursed from the group’s December bond payment default, to be turned into a $5 million package Bluestem fundraisers would pay back to the Fargo School District over 10 to 20 years, documents show.

Johnson said the Bluestem board is to meet sometime next week.

He said that the $2.1 million could be paid out of district reserve funds.

Asked if the school district would forgive any of the Bluestem debt, such as the no-interest loan, Johnson replied, “Forgiveness is easier to achieve than permission, but not when it comes to money.”

The school board also briefly considered an initiative put forward by member John Strand.

Strand called for creating a Bluestem Facility Ad Hoc Committee to forge a new comprehensive operating agreement for the arts center

Strand proposed a five-member group (two from Fargo School District, two from the city of Moorhead and one from Bluestem) meet and report back with recommendations by June 15, with possible action by the different groups by July 1.

“We need to get all of us on the table,” Strand said, calling it an effort to “salvage what we can and reset it (Bluestem) for the future.”

Strand said the district is committed to paying another nearly $300,000 bond payment in June, so the groups can take their time in putting together a pact that will bring more stakeholders to the table, spread out the financial obligations, and save Fargo School District taxpayers money.

“We have an opportunity to explore a shared community approach,” Strand said. “There’s nothing to lose.”

Several board members said Strand was on the right track, but perhaps a meeting too early.

“The concept is a great concept,” Rick Steen said. “My concern is we’re railroading the current process.”

Steen said whether Bluestem approves the school district’s operating plan, “this is a good idea.”

Linda Coates added it was important to get Bluestem’s fundraising revitalized first.

“We’re the entity financially on the hook. … It (Bluestem) needs to be run professionally,” Coates said.

The board voted 9-0 to table Strand’s motion.

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