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Grand Forks Herald building could host downtown library branch, space for alternative education

photo by Jenna Watson/Grand Forks Herald

Plans are starting to come to light for the Grand Forks Herald building downtown, including proposed uses for a school district student transitional education program, a downtown library branch and space for city staff.

Craig Tweten, who has partnered with Mike Kuntz to develop plans for turning the newspaper building into the Herald Communications Center, spoke to the Grand Forks Public Schools facilities committee before the group gave preliminary approval to sign a two-year lease for 2,100 square feet in the building at 375 Second Ave. N. The agreement needs to be approved by the full School Board.

Tweten shared a map with the committee that shows proposed leasing areas for the Herald building, including a second-floor space reserved for Grand Forks Public Schools that is currently the office of Herald Publisher Korrie Wenzel.

The plans didn't specify exactly where other tenants would be located, but Tweten said if the city of Grand Forks gets approval, it hopes to lease out most of the first floor. Tentative suggestions would place the Planning and Community Development Department, Metropolitan Planning Organization staff and a downtown library branch on the first floor.

Forum Communications Co., which owns the Herald building, put the structure on the market last year for $3.47 million. Communication Central Building, a group that includes Tweten and Kuntz, is in the process of purchasing the building for an undisclosed amount. FCC is interested in partnering in the redevelopment of the building, which could lead to a long-term lease that would see the Herald's staff stay in the downtown location.

"We really want to keep it something unique," Tweten said. "We're thinking the school is a great asset for this whole project."

City Administrator Todd Feland confirmed the discussions, adding he could brief the city on the proposal as soon as January. The library branch, which could be in the Herald Community Room, could have books, programming, electronics and wi-fi, but it also would serve as a public gathering space, Feland said.

The city still is conducting due diligence to see how much office space it would need, and rental costs have yet to be determined, Feland said.

Tweten and Kuntz also have been working with UND and Grand Forks Public Library leaders for the library space, Tweten said. The Library Board has not made any decisions on the matter.

Tweten and Kuntz did not return messages left by the Herald by press time.

Space for transition

The space that would cost the school district about $30,000 a year—plus taxes, utilities and common area maintenance (CAM) fees that would total about $1,000—would be used to educate students with specials needs who are slated to transition back into school buildings, said Tricia Lee, executive director of special education.

"They might be students who have social emotional needs or anxiety, or maybe they are transitioning back to us from a residential facility and we can't have them go to" a high school, she said. "We have to give them a chance to transition."

The district received a three-year grant for its student transitional education program in 2014 from the Department of Public Instruction, Lee said. Those funds equalled about $15,000 a year, and Lee was able to secure about $30,000 for the upcoming year, she told committee members.

The school has worked with the Grand Forks Housing Authority to use space around town for the program for free, including at the LaGrave Learning Center. But the program has expanded from 18 students in the 2014-15 school year to 28 students this year, and the district needs more space, Lee said.

The district wanted space close to Central High School, staff said. It also looked at 2,955 square feet located at 414 University Ave., which would have cost $29,431, plus annual fees of about $900, plus an unknown amount for "triple net" fees, according to a staff report. The district also would be responsible for damages and repairs, unlike at the Herald building.

The Herald was attractive because it is move-in ready, costs were known and controlled, it has common-use areas and the landlords would assist in providing desks and equipment if needed, according to the staff report.

The Grand Forks Regional Economics Development Corp. recently signed a five-year lease agreement to stay in its location in the first floor of the Herald building.

April Baumgarten

April Baumgarten joined the Grand Forks Herald May 19, 2015, and covers crime and education. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, where her family raises registered Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at Jamestown (N.D.) College, now known as University of Jamestown. During her time at the college, she worked as a reporter and editor-in-chief for the university's newspaper, The Collegian. Baumgarten previously worked for The Dickinson Press as a city government and energy reporter in 2011 before becoming the editor of the Hazen Star and Center Republican. She then returned to The Press as a news editor, where she helped lead an award-winning newsroom in recording the historical oil boom.

Have a story idea? Contact Baumgarten at 701-780-1248.

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