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Lakeland Public TV unveils plans for new building

The new building that will house Lakeland Public Television will be built on the northeast corner of First Street and Grant Avenue along Bemidji's south shore. Construction is expected to begin in spring 2013. Submitted schematic Courtesy Lakeland Public Television

BEMIDJI - After securing $3 million in state bonding funds, Lakeland Public Television now is working to raise the remaining funds to construct its new facility.

The building, to be constructed on the northeast corner of First Street and Grant Avenue along the city's south shore, will cost about $4.2 million to build, according to Bill Sanford, CEO of Lakeland Public Television.

Construction is expected to begin in spring 2013.

The details of the timeline were presented Wednesday morning in a public event in the Lakeland studio, located the last 32 years on the second floor of Deputy Hall on the Bemidji State University campus.

"The reality is we're really, really squeezed here," Sanford said.

Most television stations have another room or additional space to store their extra sets; Lakeland hides its sets "behind every corner" possible. Workspaces are set up wherever space is available; some are next to the drum room, so when practice is in session, it can be difficult to simply make a phone call.

"Not only is it something that will give us more space and better offices, it's really critical for us to just maintain the services that we have," Sanford said.

Heating and cooling systems also are overpowered, he noted. HVAC issues in July shut down critical equipment and took LPTV off the air more than one once.

"The facility just can't handle it," Sanford said. "It's not designed for what we have in it right now."

Lakeland, when it first went on the air in 1980, served Bemidji with one analog channel and 16 hours of daily broadcasting. There were 16 staff members.

Now, having added Brainerd, there are two service areas with 24-hour programming on five digital channels. Today, there is a staff of 32.

Aside from a larger complex, more space and updated systems, the new building offers a chance for Lakeland to better brand itself to the public.

"One of the challenges of being on the campus is a lot of people see us as a university station," Sanford said.

BSU has been extremely supportive of the station, he noted, but from the public's point of view, offices are not easily located or accessible.

The new building will offer drive-up parking and offer space to host events.

"It will allow us to be more engaged with the community," Sanford said.

On May 8, the Legislature approved the last version of the bonding bill, which dedicated $3 million for the new Lakeland building.

With the bonding, Lakeland now has about $3.6 million in hand. While the building itself will cost a little more than $4.2, Lakeland hopes to raise $5 million total, including $500,000 for a Building for the Future fund. In that fund, half of those dollars would be endowed and the other half would be set aside as seed money for new programming ideas.

"We're very excited to be moving forward on this," Sanford said.

Jim Hanko, chairman of the Lakeland board, praised Sen. John Carlson, R-Bemidji, and Rep. Larry Howes, R-Walker, for their work to secure funding.

The new building will now become a reality, he said, thanks to "the successful bipartisan passage of the bonding bill," Hanko said.

Sanford also credited Rep. John Persell, DFL-Bemidji, for his work during Bemidji Day at the Capitol, when he pulled Gov. Mark Dayton aside to discuss the project. At that point, Lakeland's request had not been included in Dayton's bonding proposal, but two days after the discussion, the governor added the project.

"Without their help, it just wouldn't have happened," Sanford said of local legislators.

He also praised the entire Bemidji Day at the Capitol effort, which this year included 50-some Bemidjians taking a bus to St. Paul to lobby on behalf of local issues.

"I, firsthand, can tell you that works," Sanford said of Bemidji Day at the Capitol. "If you want to help move something forward, use that. It's a great tool."

Sanford, while acknowledging additional work is needed, said he wasn't concerned about raising the remaining funds.

"I think if you have a worthwhile project, there's money out there," he said.

A handful of grant applications have been submitted. One, through the Bremer Foundation, would bring the total money raised up around $4 million.

The first foundation that gave its support to Lakeland's building project was the George W. Neilson Foundation which allocated Lakeland $400,000.

"Neilson really stepped up and helped us with the project with that lead gift," he said.

The public campaign, which will begin around July 1, will seek to raise about $420,000 by engaging members and appealing to longtime members of Lakeland Public television.

"I think we'll get there," Sanford said. "I'm not too concerned about it."