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Campus Projects in a Statewide Bonding Bill
Construction bill is up for vote in the House and Senate this week.
Mark Fischenich, Mankato Free Press, 5-4-12
Funding for Mankato’s civic center, and for those in Rochester and St. Cloud, will not be in a statewide construction bill headed for votes in the House and Senate early next week.
But the bill now includes design funding for major projects at Minnesota State University and the St. Peter Regional Treatment Center that could lead to more than $100 million in future bonding bills.
The inclusion of the design funds had local Democratic House members ready to vote for the $496 million bill when it comes up for a scheduled vote on Monday.
“ They were both at zero and now at least there’s the design money,” said Rep. Terry Morrow, DFL-St. Peter, speaking of the funding for the treatment center and for a new clinical health building at MSU. “ Something is better than nothing.”
RTC need recognized Morrow was disappointed about the fate of the Mankato civic center project, but he was particularly concerned about the treatment center.
The Minnesota Sex Offender Program is projected to run out of beds as soon as 2014. The shortterm fix proposed by the Department of Human Services would spend more than $100 million to expand and improve the Minnesota Security Hospital, which is located on the St. Peter facility’s upper campus, and free up space on the lower campus to add 200 more beds for the sex offender program.
Nearly $3.7 million is in this year’s bonding bill to plan for and design that work. Even-numbered years are when the Legislature traditionally passes bonding bills, which borrow money to complete construction and repairs of public buildings and facilities across the state.
Because of the urgency of the RTC project, Morrow thinks design funding this year could lead to construction funding as soon as next year.
“Considering the pressing demand for beds in 2014, you can’t wait for the 2014 bonding year,” he said. “ So I do have hope that at least that project could move forward (in 2013).”
Rep. Kathy Brynaert, DFL-Mankato, was pleased to see the design money added for the treatment center and the clinical health building — saying she will provide a “reluctant yes” vote on the bonding bill.
“At least now the commitment is out there,” Brynaert said. “ We do the design money and we’re committed to the project.”
MSU clinical health project gets underway
The new MSU building — which would receive $2.1 million in the bonding bill — would consolidate the university’s departments of nursing; dental hygiene; and speech, language and hearing and create more classroom space to help handle the 25 percent growth in nursing school enrollment at MSU over the past decade.
The building would also add substantial space for clinics that are crucial to health sciences degrees, providing students with required clinical experience and provide free or low- cost health services to more than 5,000 additional community members, according to MSU’s proposal.
If the design money receives final approval in this year’s bonding bill this year, another $28 million in construction funding is anticipated from the 2014 state bonding bill with a final $6 million allocation to finish the work two years later.
“ This project will enable MSU to train the health care professionals that Minnesota will need for decades to come,” Morrow said.
Civic center left out
The absence of any funding for the civic center wasn’t a shock to area lawmakers or local boosters of the proposed $31 million expansion and upgrade. Local officials had little hope in recent weeks of getting the $14.5 million requested from the state to cover nearly half the cost of the proposed project, which received legislative approval in previous years only to be vetoed by then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
This year, Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton included in his $775 million bonding proposal the Mankato money and funding for similar work on civic centers in Rochester and St. Cloud.
The Republican controlled Legislature, however, left the Mankato funds out of the $280 million House proposal and the $496 million Senate plan.
The Senate bill was particularly galling to supporters of the Mankato project because that legislation included $32 million for improvements to Rochester’s civic center and $10 million for St.
Cloud’s civic center. The Senate majority leader and chair of the Capital Investment Committee, Dave Senjem, is from Rochester.
The committee vice chairman is from St. Cloud.
At the request of Mankato City Manager Pat Hentges, Sen. Mike Parry, a Waseca Republican, agreed to insert $250,000 for Mankato into the Senate bill to keep the project alive in negotiations between the Legislature and governor (although Parry said he might favor dropping all three civic center projects.) But in recent weeks, it became increasingly clear the Republicandominated Legislature wouldn’t agree to a bonding bill anywhere near the size proposed by Dayton — making it extremely unlikely it would have room for the nearly $57 million required to fund the trio of civic centers.
The absence of funding for any of the three cities at least eliminates the political favoritism in the Senate proposal, Brynaert said.
“ So at least that’s fair,” she said.
A switch to a grant program
The bill takes a new approach to funding projects aimed at boosting local or regional economies, putting $55 million into a grant project administered by the Department of Employment and Economic Development.
Morrow, Brynaert and Sen.
Kathy Sheran, DFL-Mankato, criticized the strategy for abdicating the Legislature’s duty to vet and approve construction projects.
“I think it’s just a dodge,” Sheran said. “It’s just avoiding the responsibility of building a bonding bill.”
The $55 million figure is almost precisely what was proposed for the three civic centers, but it appears the grant program will be available for everything from roads to college buildings to local government projects, Brynaert said.
Sheran plans to offer a Senate amendment to the bill to specifically allocate the money to the civic centers. Although the amendment is virtually certain to fail, it will give her a chance to make the case again for the merits of Mankato’s project.
“Clearly, if you listen to the arguments, it is deserving of inclusion in this year’s bonding bill,” she said.
Final passage still uncertain
The bill was scheduled for a House vote Thursday and a Senate vote Tuesday, but the House vote was delayed to Monday.
Brynaert said it appears that Dayton had some concerns about the disparity in funding between the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system. The U of M receives $ 54 million while MnSCU gets $ 145 million.
Part of the MnSCU money is $ 13.3 million for classroom renovations and additions at South Central College’s Faribault campus. That funding is important locally because upgrades at SCC’s North Mankato campus won’t happen until the badly needed improvements are completed in Faribault, Brynaert said.
The bill also includes $ 2 million to cover the second phase of upgrades to Mankato’s transit facility, part of the city public works complex at the intersection of Victory Drive and Hoffman Road. The project includes facilities for washing and fueling city buses and better amenities for bus- riders walking or biking to the facility to catch a bus.
To see the entire story, go to www.mankatofreepress.com.