By far the biggest project Friends of the Finland Community has undertaken has been assisting Crystal Bay Township with the planning, fundraising, and construction of the Finland Community Center/Clair Nelson Intermodal Transportation Center.

For many years there was a recreation hall in Finland, however, the building fell into disrepair, and in the Fall of 2007, with the help of Lake County, it was demolished. The Township’s goal was to build a new community center that would be the model rural, affordable, sustainable community center to serve area residents of Northern Lake County and visitors to the region.

The planning for the new center began during the comp plan process. In addition to the question “What would you like the community of Finland to be like in 20 years?” focus groups were also asked what they would like to see in a new community center. This information was incorporated into the Comp Plan, but also used to obtain $9,000 of support from the Northeast Minnesota Sustainable Development Partnership. With these funds, the Township was able to work with Paul Anderson of Partners and Sirny Architecture Firm and the University of Minnesota Center for Sustainable Building Research to obtain schematic designs for the building and to develop methods for incorporating sustainable elements into the new facility.

In turn, the schematic design created allowed the Town to apply for funding in multiple places. In June of 2006, the Township voted to bond itself up to $750,000 to build the new building. A Community Center Committee met from 2004-2006. In June 2006 the Township moved to officially create two Committees, a fund-raising and a building committee, which met bi-weekly to plan for and coordinate the next steps for the building. In August of 2006, Congressman Jim Oberstar visited Finland and spent an hour at the Finland Rec. Hall learning about the hopes and plans for the new Community Center.

On March 16th, 2007, Finland’s St Urho’s Day Celebration was organized around the History of the old Finland Recreation Hall, which we knew we would be saying goodbye to in preparation for construction of the new Center. The highlight of the day was a visit from Congressman Oberstar, who rode in the parade, visited the Rec Hall, and then announced that the Township would be getting $800,000 from the federal government towards the new Community Center, in recognition and memorial of the efforts of Clair Nelson, a recently deceased community leader.

Fast on the heels of that news came the word that the Township would also be receiving a grant for $97,300 from Minnesota’s Lake Superior Coastal Program for the building of the new community center as a facility that could provide information and access to individuals about the natural world in inner Lake County along the Baptism River, a protected trout stream.

Since then the project has received funding from such diverse sources as Iron Range Resources, The Wilder Foundation, NE MN Sustainable Development Partnership, the Lloyd K. Johnson Foundation, Clean Energy Resource Teams, the Katherine B Andersen Fund of the St Paul Foundation, and many various donations from individuals and businesses.

Friends of the Finland Community was instrumental in organizing the meetings and building the partnerships that led to these grants for the new facility. We are very pleased to have been able to assist Crystal Bay Township in this manner with the Community Center Project.

The new facility was opened for the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon January 30 – February 2, 2011. The Grand Opening event occurred during the 2011 St Urho’s Celebration on March 12th, 2011.

After the Center was finished, a construction debt of $250,000 remained. Thanks to the efforts of Town Clerk Deb Johansen, and County Commissioner Pete Walsh, State Representative Dave Dill was able to secure Taconite Production Tax funds to pay off this debt.

The Community Center is now available for use and rental. It is used every day, activities are flourishing, and the possibilities are endless!

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