Lake County fiber project could have headquarters soonLake County and its fiber-to-home project management team is closing in on a deal to purchase the former First Solutions building off Highway 2 in Two harbors to house the offices for the broadband project.
Lake County and its fiber-to-home project management team is closing in on a deal to purchase the former First Solutions building off Highway 2 in Two harbors to house the offices for the broadband project.
County Coordinator Matt Huddleston told the county board Tuesday that a purchase agreement is being finalized with First Solutions in Duluth, owners of the building that once was home to the health plan provider that was an offshoot of the city’s groundbreaking community health care system begun in 1944.
Fiber project manager Jeff Roiland said the county is getting a good price and may be able to lease a portion of the building. The 10,385 square foot building was listed at $750,000 but Roiland said the county’s offer was much less. The building has more space and land than it needs for office space but part of the acreage could one day be used for a garage for fiber company service trucks.
Roiland said the building works well “as our base” and the possibility of leasing back some space is a win “if it’ll bring jobs back.”
The county is still awaiting official word on the release of loan and grant funds of $66.5 million from the Rural Utilities Service for the project that will bring high-speed internet, phone, and television service to every home in the county and parts of St. Louis County.
Any building purchase would be contingent on the county getting that money. Huddleston said he expects to bring an agreement to the board Aug. 9 and the deal could close after September.
Engineers are working on mapping the fiber routes throughout the county in order to get an estimate on how much line the project will need.
Roiland said he expects aerial fiber lines to be going up in January. Up to 70 percent of the system will use existing utility poles.
The first phase of the project, Roiland said, will be in hooking up the cities in the project area, including Two Harbors, Beaver Bay, Silver Bay, and Ely. The next phase would be connecting those cities with the more remote lines, including those that need to be buried next summer.
The final phases will include the remote lines, such as Ely to Isabella, and the main connections to Duluth.
On the money
Project assistant Gene South said the project remains on budget with “no overruns so far.”
The county has spent $420,000 on the project so far and will ask RUS if that would be part of its required $3.5 million contribution to the project. That money includes salary for the management team and payments to the engineering and marketing firms working on the project.
The marketing firm is still working on creating a web site for the project and an official name. It has done some mail marketing, Huddleston said.
Huddleston, board chair Rick Goutermont, and the project team flew to Washington D.C. earlier this month to meet with RUS officials. Huddleston said it was a “good meeting” and the release of funding comes “down to a couple issues.”
Roiland said it was “well worth the trip” to meet with the federal overseers “face to face.” RUS is scrutinizing the county’s fiber plan for adherence to its funding rules and checking the financial viability of the project.
The county group also met with a representative from Verizon and learned how the county might market itself to companies seeking locations for data centers.