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Bonding passes House

Bill includes design funding for new clinical health building at Minnesota State Mankato.

Mark Fischenich, Mankato Free Press, 5-8-12

MANKATO — The Minnesota House of Representatives passed a $496 million bonding bill Monday that included design funding for a new clinical health building at Minnesota State University and for improvements at the Minnesota Security Hospital in St. Peter.

There was no money specifically appropriated for Mankato’s proposed expan­sion and renovation of the downtown civic center, although the city could com­pete for a piece of the $50 million the legislation sets aside for grants to local projects around the state.

The 99-32 vote followed several hours of debate and easily topped the 60 percent constitutional threshold for legislative borrowing by 18 votes. It heads next to the Senate. All Mankato-area repre­sentatives voted for the bill except Rep. Glenn Gruenhagen, R-Glencoe, whose district includes Le Sueur County and part of Sibley County.

The bonding bill discus­sion immediately preceded the much-anticipated debate over a $975 million Vikings stadium, and Rep. Larry Howes — the sponsor of the bonding bill — said he knew his legislation was just the warm-up act.

“Right now I feel like the pre-game show of Monday Night Football,” said Howes, R-Walker.

But the bonding bill — if it passes the Senate, where it was tentatively scheduled to be heard today — could have a much bigger long­term impact on the south­central Minnesota construc­tion economy than the high­er profile stadium debate.

Nearly $3.7 million is included for the St. Peter Regional Treatment Center for safety improvements at the Security Hospital and to design the renovations on the campus to make room for 200 additional beds for the Minnesota Sex Offender Treatment Program. That could be the first piece of a multi-year improvement to the facility totaling more than $100 million.

Rep. Terry Morrow pre­dicts approval for the con­struction funding — more than $36 million to com­plete the first phase — could come as soon as 2013. The Department of Human Services anticipates request­ing an additional $53.4 mil­lion for the next phase in 2014 and $14 million more in 2016 to finish the work.

The ever-growing number of court- committed sex offenders is expected to exceed the capacity of the St. Peter facility and a sister facility in Moose Lake by the middle of 2014.

A major construction project would also be com­ing to Mankato in coming years under a provision in the bonding bill. More than $2 million provided for design work on the new MSU building would likely lead to $28 million in con­struction funding in the 2014 state bonding bill and another $6 million two years later to complete the proj­ect.

The building, slated to be constructed on the campus’s east side not far from the bell tower, would consoli­date the university’s depart­ments of nursing; dental hygiene; and speech, lan­guage and hearing.

The inclusion of the design money for those two projects, along with addi­tional funding for colleges and universities statewide, persuaded local Democrats to support the bill despite the absence of any direct funding for Mankato’s planned $31 million civic center project.

Local officials had sought $14.5 million from the state with the remainder coming from the city’s local option sales tax. The project and similar civic center upgrades in Rochester and St. Cloud were supported by Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton, but the Republican­controlled Legislature — looking to keep the bill’s size well below Dayton’s $775 million — ultimately left all three out.

The bill instead sets aside $50 million for the Department of Employment and Economic Development to grant to local projects through a competitive appli­cation process. There’s little in the bill to restrict who can apply for the money, however, meaning there are likely to be hundreds of mil­lions of dollars in requests from local governments around the state for the $50 million.

The pot of money for local projects actually got $5 million smaller over the weekend, one of a number of changes as Dayton and leg­islative leaders made final adjustments.

At Dayton’s insistence, the funding for the University of Minnesota grew by $10 million to $64 million and the appropria­tion for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system fell by $13 million to $132 million.

A $19.5 million addition to the Camp Ripley Education Center, funded in the governor’s plan, was added to the bill as well.

The MnSCU money includes $13.3 million for classroom renovations and additions at South Central College’s Faribault campus, which Rep. Kathy Brynaert of Mankato said is a precur­sor to funding for SCC’s North Mankato campus in future legislative sessions.

Rep. Alice Hausman, a St. Paul Democrat who was chairwoman of the House bonding committee prior to the Republican takeover of the Legislature, encouraged fellow Democrats to vote for the bill. Hausman specifical­ly mentioned the Regional Treatment Center funding but was especially praise­worthy of the money for col­lege campuses, much of which goes to basic repairs of existing buildings.

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