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Chisholm struts broadband projects

CHISHOLM — A bus tour held last week highlighted broadband projects in Chisholm and Balkan made possible through grants from the Blandin Foundation. The tour, referred to as, “Strut Your Stuff” Broadband Tour, was arranged by Chisholm Development and Economic Director Amy Rice. This tour started at Minnesota Discovery Center. From there it went on a route along Lake Street in Chisholm to Highway 73 north to the Balkan Community Center and back. Chisholm City Administrator Katie Bobich and Tom Whiteside, a representative from Rep.

Rick Nolan’s office, were tour guides. The two also engaged tour participants in a round of trivia on broadband. Representatives and elected officials from the school district, representatives from the Blandin Foundation, Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board, Minnesota Discovery Center and others involved with the Blandin Broadband Project participated in the tour. A $75,000 matching grant awarded to the Chisholm Development Economic Development Authority (EDA) by the Blandin Foundation was used to cover the cost of a feasibility study of the project area. That area includes: Chisholm, Balkan Township, Hibbing, French Township, Cherry Township, Mountain Iron, Buhl, Kinney and Great Scott Township.

A $31,500 grant from the Blandin Foundation along with a $10,500 match from the Chisholm Community Foundation was used to cover projects being implemented this spring. The school bus used for the tour was one example of these grant dollars at work. It’s one of two in the Chisholm School District’s fleet that are now equipped with WiFi, accessible for students to do their homework.

At a school board meeting this spring, Chisholm High School Principal Rich Aldrich talked about the benefit of having WiFi available to students traveling for sports or other school events. One of the buses equipped with the WiFi, it was noted on the tour, hauls students from a lengthy rural route. A portion of the funds awarded this spring will also be used to build a common web portal for the chamber, school and city, and to update the current website of each of these three entities. The majority of the Central Range Area is underserved, defined as access to internet service of 25 megabits (Mbps) per second download and 3 Mbps per second upload. A minimum of 4 Mbps upload is needed to impact economic development efforts, according to information provided by Strategic Networks Group.

In effort to bridge the gap and make high speed internet more readily available, grant monies received this spring will be used to create community hot spots at the Chisholm Public Library, Balkan Community Center and at the pocket park being constructed on Lake Street in Chisholm. The library will also be starting up a hot spot checkout program, where patrons may check out a hot spot for a specified period of time. The Blandin Broadband Committee is also looking ahead, identifying potential projects. They are seeking $43,500 from the Blandin Foundation to be paired with $14,500 from other sources, said Rice.

Some of the ideas being considered for fall, should they be awarded these funds, include adding a strong WiFi connection at Minnesota Discovery Center and adding a hot spot at Kiwanis Park. An e-training session for businesses and technology training for community members is also being considered. Another idea being proposed is a technology center launch pad. Mayor Todd Scaia on Thursday suggested exploring the possibility of getting a designated testing site, should the technology center come to fruition.

Scaia and others on the bus tour talked about the distances professionals and students now travel for testing. Bobich also talked about creating a Skype booth. This concept would involve a London style phone booth from which patrons could Skype without their conversations disrupting other patrons.

Blandin Foundation also has a program called PCs for People, which makes personal computers accessible to people in need. Rice said the committee is looking at community locations to place computers received through this program. They are also exploring options for distributing them to students in need, potentially targeting one particular grade level.

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