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VIDEO: Take a seat! Fargo company works to give Bison Sports Arena bleachers second life as flooring, memorabilia

FARGO - Seth Carlson spent plenty of time on the bleachers at the Bison Sports Arena during his high school wrestling matches and his brother's two North Dakota State University commencement ceremonies.

A workman pokes his head
A workman pokes his head out of the bleachers where one of the boards has been removed to talk with a co-worker as they start to disassemble the bleachers Saturday at the Bison Sports Arena, where a $34 million renovation is underway on the North Dakota State University campus. The wood is being salvaged and sold for other purposes. Dave Wallis / The Forum

FARGO - Seth Carlson spent plenty of time on the bleachers at the Bison Sports Arena during his high school wrestling matches and his brother's two North Dakota State University commencement ceremonies.

On Saturday, Carlson and a crew of about a dozen others were busy tearing apart those same bleachers - working to keep the wood out of the landfill and give the pieces of history a second life as flooring, benches, paneling and Bison memorabilia after serving its seating purpose since the arena opened in 1970.

"I think it deserves a little more respect for all the work it did," Carlson said.

The owner and founder of Fargo-based reclaimed wood supplier ICSS Design and Supply, Carlson said he got the chance when he approached Gast Construction, the general contractor for the BSA's $41 million, two-year renovation project. Worried the wooden bleachers would be thrown out unless he stepped in, he made a pitch that he said the company was eager to accept, giving him access to the site to do his work.

"They were willing to adapt and provide us with a lot of help," he said. "Most contracting companies wouldn't even take the time. They'd take a backhoe and go in and tear it out, and that's it."

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Wooden history

Carlson and a crew of three ICSS employees, as well as 10 people hired from a labor contractor, started the salvage job Friday - filling the arena that until recently hosted Bison basketball games with the echoes of power tools as they cut steel beams and unbolted long wooden planks.

Unexpected issues over the weekend meant the project became longer than first expected, though he said it's on track to be completed in the next week.

Work was progressing in stages on Saturday, with the crew making its way up and down the largest bleacher system along the eastern wall of the arena.

By Friday night, they had finished most of the venue's other bleachers, including six mobile units with Douglas fir that Carlson said seem to have come from the old field house because the wood dates back to the 1930s.

Workers also stripped planks of Douglas fir from the smaller rows of bleachers along the arena's western wall that he said have the kind of high-quality, knotless wood that is a rarity these days.

"It's really nice stuff," he said. "It was from really big trees that don't exist anymore."

But the biggest piece of the project undoubtedly will be dismantling the large wall of bleachers that were built new for the arena in 1970.

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"That entire bleacher system is all Southern yellow pine, which is crazy," he said. "That means it got shipped, because Southern yellow pine doesn't grow anywhere near here."

Pine is a soft wood, Carlson said, and likely was a cheap option when the bleachers were built. But it's become a valuable commodity in the years since.

He estimated ICSS would get about 20,000 square feet of lumber from the bleachers, though Bison fans hoping to get their hands on a piece may have some stiff competition.

Carlson said about 90 percent will be sold to a national reclaimed wood company that will remill the lumber as flooring and get it ready for customers across the country.

"It just looks really cool," he said. "There are all different colors and textures of the wood, and then all the seats have numbers engraved in them, so they keep the numbers on the wood and the floor."

He'll keep the remaining wood to sell to customers who want a piece of Bison memorabilia, whether it's used to make a bench, a wall mural or paneling.

No matter its eventual second life, Carlson said he's glad to know he can help preserve this piece of the past.

"My goal is just to provide Fargo with reclaimed wood products and bringing actual historical wood from historical Fargo buildings and keeping it in the community."

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Readers can reach Forum reporter Ryan Johnson at (701) 241-5587

A workman pokes his head
Workers take the bleachers apart Saturday at the Bison Sports Arena. Dave Wallis / The Forum

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