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Helmut Schmidt, Published July 23 2012

Fargo School District to assume control of Bluestem on Aug. 1

FARGO – The Fargo School District is poised to assume full control of the Bluestem Center for the Arts on Aug. 1.

School district staff have been operating and maintaining the center and will continue to do so, school board President Jim Johnson said Monday. Staff will next take over all booking of the facility, he said.

The Bluestem Center is the home of Trollwood Performing Arts School, a Fargo schools summer theater arts program.

The Bluestem board met last week and failed to decide whether to approve a memorandum of understanding with the district on how operations and fundraising duties would be divvied up for the south Moorhead arts facility, Johnson told his board at a retreat at Rose Creek Golf Course. That was confirmed by Dave Olig, president of the Bluestem group,

Olig said his group will meet this week and will likely have an answer Thursday afternoon.

“We’re going to discuss and finalize everything then,” Olig said.

One of the points of consensus for the school board was to invite the city of Moorhead, Trollwood supporters, arts groups and other organizations to discuss creating a new governing agency for Bluestem Center.

Johnson said he wants letters to go out after the Aug. 14 Fargo School Board meeting.

Johnson said he hopes to have replies from those groups by the end of August.

Another point of consensus is a moratorium on new bookings for non-arts-oriented events – such as weddings – after fall 2013, Johnson said.

“We don’t want to tie up the calendar until we’ve got a little bit better handle on how this is going to happen in the long term,” he said.

Johnson said the drawn-out decision-making for the Bluestem Center has been frustrating.

“It would have been nice to have this answered in March,” he said.

“We clearly need a new business plan,” compared to the one that has been in place, Johnson said.

Olig said members of Bluestem have a lot of concerns about the future.

“There’s a lot of discussion,” he said. “There’s concern about where we’ve been and where we’re going, and how we’re going to get where we’re going, and how we’re going to continue and all that.”

The school and Bluestem boards have disagreed on whether the Trollwood mainstage musical should have priority over other possible bookings during the program’s 2½ months of stage construction, rehearsals and performances.

The Bluestem group has pushed for inserting concerts and other events into the schedule.

But Bluestem fundraisers also found it tough to raise funds for the $15 million facility, and were unable to make a bond payment in December. That payment and another in June were picked up by the school district, which guaranteed the bonds.

The school board recently decided to pay the remaining $1.84 million in bonded debt. That gives the school district full lease rights for the arts facility on Aug. 1.

The Bluestem group has also said it can’t raise enough funds to pay a $2.7 million loan that was also used to finish building the center.


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