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VOLUNTEERS HAVE BEEN VERY BUSY rebuilding the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses located at 861 Oak Avenue in Ortonville. The building was demolished following a fire on June 30. They hope to have the building completed by the end of this week with a final inspection planned for Monday, Oct. 27.

Volunteers rebuild Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses

As people have driven by the Hilltop area in Ortonville, many have wondered about all the vehicles in the vacant parking lot of the former Hilltop Cafe.

They belong to volunteers from across the country that are building a new Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses at 861 Oak Avenue in Ortonville.

Back on June 30, fire caused extensive damage to the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Due to the damage to the building, it had to be demolished.

A Regional Building Committee from the Twin Cities has since directed the rebuilding, which began just a few weeks ago. This is being done by volunteers who have taken time off work to help with the rebuild.

According to volunteer Donna Freiwald, as many as 84 volunteers have been on the site, framing and doing electrical work. The work has been done progressively, with experts in their field on the site such as concrete workers, electricians, framers and many others. The group works from sunrise to sunset and they hope to have the building completed by the end of this week.

A food service trailer as well as tents have been set up during the rebuilding with volunteer cooks and helpers preparing meals for everyone on the job.

The original building was constructed in 1991 and was due to be remodeled in 2016. According to Jeff Malzahn, local coordinator of the congregation, they had the funding available to rebuild on the current sight.

A final inspection is expected on Monday, Oct. 27.

Residents attend broadband meeting in Clinton last Wed.

Approximately 17 people gathered at the Inadvertent Cafe in Clinton on Wednesday, Oct. 15 to address any questions or concerns regarding the broadband project in Big Stone County and why a County EDA is necessary for this project.

Terry Ocana, Big Stone County IT Director, began the discussion by informing those in attendance as to how this project came about. He stated that Big Stone County was approached a few months ago by Federated Telephone of Chokio informing the county that Minnesota DEED has a 50 percent matching grant opportunity for expanding broadband into the rural communities. Federated asked the county if they would be interested in partnering together on some level. This project was available to all vendors, but Federated was the only one to approach the county.

Details of the proposed project Federated is offering is to expand high speed internet access to buildings, (that could include residential, farming, business or structures) at this point. The number of buildings at this time is around 1,072. Total cost of the project is $8 million, which breaks down to $4 million for Federated and $4 million for the County.

Ocana stated that Federated approached the County with two different proposals. The first was to have Federated use their own financing and the County would split the cost of the financing and cover about half the cost of that payment for 10 years and then extend that loan over 10 additional years to bring the cost down for Federated.

The second proposal was for the County to bond for the $4 million over 20 years, and to bond and loan that money to Federated as they work on the project, with Federated repaying at no cost to the county, which is what they decided to go with.

What the county gets in return is fiber optic for the western half of Big Stone County. Some areas of the county already have fiber optic from various carriers, including the communities of Ortonville, Clinton and Graceville and the southwest corner of the county.

Ocana went on to say that the one thing they have to create in order to bond and lend these dollars for private entity is to have a lending arm we can create to do this in a county wide EDA.

Vince Robinson of Big Stone Area Growth (BSAG) stated that one of the outcomes will be that we will have an improved system of broadband in the county. This will lead to higher standards of service.

“An EDA is not the only avenue that could be pursued, but it is the simplest avenue, “ said Robinson in discussing forming a county wide EDA. “There would need to be a task force formed that would review options for this. You do have a county HRA now, but they do not have a right in their resolution to do economic development, they can only do housing development activities at this time.”

They are looking for interested volunteers to sit on a steering committee for an EDA to make recommendations. You can contact the Big Stone County Auditors office if you would like to serve on the committee.

Ocana went on to say that this particular project is one opportunity. Big Stone County as a whole and BSAG have made a collective decision to expand broadband in the county, so this project is just one opportunity and whether or not it is accepted, they will continue to move forward with broadband for the county.

“We are not creating a sole partnership with Federated Telephone,” said Ocana. “This grant requires the expansion be wire internet, but there are other possible opportunities coming in the future from the FCC that may release funds for grant purposes that will allow wireless expansion. All we are doing is improving vendor competition in Big Stone County.”

Francis and Nate Spors of Nate’s Net were in attendance and stated they are presently serving 95 percent of Big Stone County and working on providing service to the other five percent at absolutely no cost or risk to the taxpayers of the county.

They are expecting nearly 100 applications statewide with preference given to those unserved or underserved areas. They will be accepting four applicants for broadband with applications being accepted through Oct. 28. Big Stone County Attorney Bill Watson is reviewing the resolution for the project and will be bringing his recommendation to the County Board on Tuesday, Oct. 21.

Seth Parker