Voltmer Inc., of Decorah, will install the city's planned 18-point Metronet fiber optic network.

The Metronet committee awarded the $684,000 bid at its meeting Wednesday, Jan. 11.

Voltmer had the low bid for the project, which calls for 144 strands circling the city, including across College Drive Bridge and along Heivly Street.

The other two bidders - Dig America Inc. of St. Cloud, Minn., and TelCom Construction Inc. of Clearwater, Minn. - both bid in the $809,000 range for the same work.

Planning for the Metronet, which will increase communications abilities for businesses and organizations connected to it, began more than five years ago.

"It's exciting to actually see this project come to fruition after six years," said Kurt DeVore, Decorah School District director of technology and representative on the Metronet committee. "It's been a collaborative effort for a very long time. I think it's something this community is going to be proud of once it's up and running."

The committee chose 144 strands rather than a lower count of 72 or 96 so there is more room for expansion to additional businesses, De Vore said.

"The biggest cost of the project isn't the fiber, it's the installation," DeVore said. "It's very difficult to go back and install more."

The extra fiber allows for growth within the six anchor members (city of Decorah, Winneshiek County, Winneshiek Medical Center, Decorah School District, Luther College and Upper Explorerland Regional Planning Commission). Additionally, the anchor members have the option to lease the unused fiber in the future. The committee is in the process of writing regulations for leasing, DeVore said.

In addition to Voltmer's contract, the Metronet project will incur about $273,000 in engineering and other expenses.

The total project is expected to cost about $957,300.

The Metronet will be paid for with an approximately $520,000 grant through the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program and $450,000 total from the six anchor members. All six have pledged $75,000 each.

Money unspent at the close of construction will be placed in a contingency fund, DeVore said.

Work on the project will begin when fiber can be obtained, DeVore said.

"We are totally dictated by the lead time on the fiber optics," he said. Fiber is in high demand and production has been slowed by natural disasters in Asia over the past few years.

While no one is sure of the exact time frame, Lindsay Erdman, of Erdman Engineering in Decorah and Metronet project engineer, estimated it could take three to six months to obtain the necessary fiber.