Millions can be saved using downtown building
By Robert Williams
A tentative agreement has been reached between the City of Frazee and Northern Dental Access Center on the purchase of the downtown commercial building on Main Avenue. The agreement was initially announced at the meeting of the Becker County Board of Commissioners Tuesday, Aug. 1, and expanded upon at a meeting of stakeholders Friday, Aug. 4.
Jane Neubauer, dental services coordinator for Partnership 4 Health, reported on a Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota dental grant that was used to create the Northwest Minnesota Dental Project and assist in providing more dental care across the region to low income residents and families.
“We have completed all the activities we want to do under that grant,” she said. “The project, thus far, has helped us to develop a concrete foundation for getting a new clinic in Frazee and an expansion at the Apple Tree clinic in Hawley.
Neubauer praised the continuing collaboration between Northern Dental Access Center (NDAC) and Apple Tree Dental (APD), the two non-profit providers in the region.
Neubauer disclosed a tentative agreement has been reached whereby NDAC will purchase the downtown commercial building that currently houses Seip Drug and other empty retail spaces. Construction and design plans have been drawn up for the purchase.
At Friday’s meeting, Seip’s presence in the building was lauded as an excellent neighbor to the dental clinic by NDAC executive director Jean Edevold Larson.
“We’re to the point of needing to jump into the major fundraising campaign part of things now,” said Neubauer.
Between the two sites, the original cost of both projects was approximately $13-15 million. That has since dropped to $7-8 million, according to Neubauer’s report.
The agreement between the city of Frazee and NDAC on the building is responsible for the lowered overall cost.
“That was a much less-expensive option than for NDAC to build,” she said.
NDAC would like access to the first $1 million of grant funds available, of the $3 million they need to begin construction.
Neubauer led Friday’s meeting held via Zoom app with 30 interested parties. Also speaking were Edevold Larson and Mike Helgeson, Apple Tree Dental Chief Executive Officer.
The Presentation of the Northwest Minnesota Dental Collaboration Project Update had two major emphases of focus:
• Construct a new 8-chair clinic in Frazee, operated by NDAC.
• Increase existing clinic capacity from 9 to 14 chairs in Hawley, operated by Apple Tree Dental
Also in discussion was adding IV sedation capabilities in Hawley.
Others in attendance were: Nancy Franke Wilson, Director of Minnesota Oral Health Coalition; Gina DiMaggio, Medica Foundation; Ryan Manke local dentist; Lynn Nesland, MAHUBE-OTWA Community Action; Mark Brandenburg, Medica Medicaid Quality Improvement Program Manager; Thomas Hill, Community Relations Essentia Health; Jessica Flotterud, Apple Tree Dental; Mayor Mark Flemmer; Debra Skjonsberg, MAHUBE-OTWA Community Action, Head Start; James Bremer, Medica Medicaid and Special Needs Plan Program Manager; Hank Ludtke, Frazee EDA; Amanda Kumpula, Becker County Public Health; Don Lorsung, City of Frazee; Mary Larkin, Apple Tree Dental.
A specific timeline for the Hawley expansion and Frazee construction is contingent on funding.
“We’re very grateful for the planning funds in these last months that have really helped us hone in on a proposal that we think is much more viable than the original concept,” Edevold Larson said.
Initial discussions on building a $12-15 million clinic in Frazee were had while construction costs were peaking.
“That number just kept creeping up the more we were planning,” said Edevold Larson. “At the same time, the City of Frazee alerted us to a building already constructed right in downtown that they would be willing to have us consider for a smaller version of our dental clinic. At first glance, we thought it was too small, but with the benefit of some of those planning dollars we were able to commission a contractor with an architect to map out what might be possible and it turns out that facility can be easily retrofitted to hold an eight treatment room clinic.”
Edevold Larson believes the new project is much more manageable than the initial plan for a brand new building and cuts the estimated cost of the project by 40 percent.
“We’re feeling really good about that,” she said. “The plans are ready; we have the contract company poised to start whenever we can start. Our final challenge here is to raise the funds.”
The point of Friday’s meeting was to inform the public on the decision to move forward in Frazee with hopes that will encourage more funding to allow for construction to begin as soon as possible.
Frazee EDA chair Hank Ludtke asked about an estimated timeline.
Edevold noted NDAC is “shovel ready, but we’re talking about $2.3 million that has to be secured before we can pull the trigger.”
Neubauer followed up with hopes that the announcement will create a buzz with potential funders.
“We’re really excited about this meeting today to roll out the plan so everybody in the community can see what’s going on,” said Neubauer. “We’re quite hopeful, honestly, that after the meeting today, with the more details that we have in place that we will see those funders come. They always say, ‘if you build it they will come.’”