Novak says intention was not to leave Crookston, but almost $4M in savings versus building new here is most important.

Instead of building a new, larger facility on Crookston’s north end, North Country Food Bank is saving almost $4 million dollars by purchasing an existing building in East Grand Forks, and NCFB Executive Director Susie Novak tells the Times that they hope to be open and operational there by the end of the year.

“It was never our intent to leave Crookston,” Novak said Tuesday. “We’ve been working on this for years, and right away we looked within a 50-mile radius for a suitable building, and there wasn’t one. We never wanted to leave Crookston, but (East Grand Forks) is there this building is.

“As a non-profit agency, we need to be good stewards of the money we receive from our donors and other support systems and resources,” Novak continued. “It was never about building a new building, it was about having enough space, having the right space. This building is super-suitable for what we need right now, and it happens to be located in East Grand Forks.”

NCFB’s offices and some warehouse space are located in downtown Crookston, at the corner of North Broadway and Fifth Street. The agency also has a warehouse in the industrial park. It leases both of its spaces in Crookston. For at least three years, Novak and NCFB’s Board of Directors have been looking to grow to better meet the hunger-related needs in its 21-county service area that’s home to 220 NCFB partner agencies. Several years ago, developer Keith Danks, Jr. donated to NCFB a parcel on North Broadway just south of the new Agassiz Townhomes that, the thinking was, would at some point be home to NCFB’s new headquarters. Last year, NCFB also received $3 million in state bonding dollars, to be matched by $3 million raised as part of a capital campaign, adding up to the anticipated $6 million construction cost. By contrast, it’s estimated that the purchase price of the East Grand Forks building, in addition to remodeling and moving costs, will total around $2.5 million.

With the announcement of the building purchase in East Grand Forks, Novak says NCFB doesn’t anticipating needing the state bonding money, so the plan would be to return it to the state.

“It’s all about economics; we know we’re going to save a lot of money,” Novak tells the Times. “Ever dollar saved in the acquisition of the building frees up resources to provide enough food for five meals for those in need.”

While thanking those who have contributed so far, Novak says almost $1 million still needs to be raised. Contributions of all sizes are welcome, she notes.

“To close that gap, we especially need partners who can help make a significant dent in our gap and demonstrate to other donors that this is a project worth support,” she said. “This is a project with the potential to impact thousands of lives. We also believe it’s a once-in-a-generation opportunity.”

John Thorson, NCFB Board chair, called the availability of the East Grand Forks building the “perfect opportunity” for the agency to meet its goals while using its resources in the most responsible way.

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Calling it a “radical change of plans,” Novak said the possibility of buying the building in East Grand Forks surfaced only three weeks ago. It’s located at 1011 11th Ave. NE, is 35,000 square feet in size, and was built in 1997 as a temporary location for Sacred Heart School after the 1997 flood. It has been partially occupied for the last several years, Novak said, and became available for sale this summer. NCFB officials toured the site several times and identified remodeling that will need to be done before the move. Things like drive-in freezer and cooler spaces will need to be added, walls will need to be removed, and a loading dock will need to be built.

Plans for the new building in Crookston included a 30,000 square foot building, so the East Grand Forks building is actually somewhat larger.

NCFB’s presence in Crookston won’t entirely disappear, as many communities the agency works with have a local food shelf that NCFB partners with. Novak says NCFB wants to work with the community to establish a food shelf and make it operational and successful here. “It could be anywhere in town,” she said. “In a lot of communities, cities offer unused space, some churches run them, or maybe our landlord would let it stay where it’s at.” She said she’d like to schedule some sort of community meeting with partners and stakeholders to make plans for the best possible food shelf in Crookston.

Despite NCFB finding a great space and saving millions of dollars in the process, Novak acknowledges that one community, Crookston, will likely not be happy, while another community, East Grand Forks, will be happy upon hearing the news.

“But for everyone else we work with, they really won’t be concerned with our location,” she adds. “But this will make a huge difference to the 220 agencies we work with because of our increased capacity and increased ability to serve them and meet the hunger needs in our service area.”