Academies fare well in first round 

Academies fare well in first round 

2022 is not only a bonding year at the Minnesota Legislature, it also could become the largest bonding year in state history. Gov. Tim Walz has put forward a $2.73 billion Local Jobs and Projects Plan for legislators to consider. It includes $2 billion in general obligation bonds, $276 million in general fund spending and $250 million in appropriation bonds. 

The bill’s contents could change greatly between now and the end of session, so no project should be totally counted out yet.  

Nor can it be assumed that passing any sort of bonding bill is a slam dunk as passing a bonding bill requires a three-fifths majority in the House and Senate. Quarrels in past years have meant that an entire bonding package was set aside. 

“In 2020, we passed the largest jobs bill in state history, investing in the projects that local communities told us matter most to them. Now, with Minnesota’s strong economic outlook, we have an opportunity to make even more progress,” Walz said in a statement. “With a focus on projects like roads, bridges, fire stations, and veterans homes, our plan will repair and replace critical infrastructure and improve the lives of Minnesotans in every corner of the state.” 

Despite a large proposal from the governor, many requests were left out. Nearly $5.5 billion in requests were received for 2022. That includes $4 billion from state agencies and about $1.5 billion from local units of government. 

Girl fishing
The fishing is fine at William O’Brien State park, which has accessible features

Needs for Minnesotans with disabilities met mixed results. The Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf (MSAD) and Academy for the Blind (MSAB) had four requests in. The governor recommended three move ahead. That is cause for cautious optimism in Faribault.  

“Thanks to support from Governor Walz’s office, three of MSA’s bonding requests made it into his recommendation to the legislature,” said Superintendent Terry Wilding. “Those requests include funding for renovations to our dorms on both campuses, design funds to assess and recommend a new student center on the MSAD campus to replace aging and outdated buildings; and asset preservation funds to maintain and improve our campuses and buildings to ensure safety, accessibility, and use of those buildings for our student programs.” 

“Originally, we had four requests, including design funds to assess and recommend plans for a new pool and related upgrades on the MSAB campus, but due to the numerous requests that passed through the governor’s office, they had to prioritize needs from all agencies across the state,” Wilding said. “We are thankful that those three requests are being considered and hope that the legislature will include all three requests into the final bonding bill during this legislative session.” 

Walz recommended a total of $9 million for the state academies. That included $6.5 million for predesign, design, and renovation of four dormitories – Pollard Hall on MSAD’s campus, and Kramer, Brandeen and Rode Dorms on the MSAB’s campus. The project would make the dorms accessible, upgrade mechanical and safety systems, and add laundry and kitchen facilities. 

Pollard Hall was constructed in 1937, and while it has had several renovations over the years it does need more work. The dormitories at MSAB are newer, dating from 1982.  

Another $200,000 is recommended for predesign to replace two buildings housing the gym and multipurpose room on the MSAD campus. The current facilities aren’t accessible to all students and aren’t energy-efficient, and require significant upkeep. This could lead to a new student center. 

The third recommendation moving ahead is $2.3 million for asset preservation. The total deferred maintenance need at the state academies is much higher, at $24 million.  

Other requests are also moving ahead. Walz has recommended $5 million to complete accessibility projects at William O’Brien State Park and initiate projects at an additional state park and wildlife management area. William O’Brien is in Washington County. 

State parks access was brought forward as an issue several years ago by the Minnesota Council on Disability (MCOD). The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources had sought $20 million. 

Another disability-focused proposal that made the cut in Walz’s budget is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) accommodation fund. Walz recommends $1 million to correct physical issues in state buildings that hinder the public’s access to state services and employment. If this is approved MCOD will review and recommend state governmental entities’ requests for project funds. That is still much less than what is actually needed. 

In transportation recommendations, the governor proposes $5 million for active transportation infrastructure projects that improve safety and encourage walking and biking. Project examples include new or enhanced sidewalks and bicycle trails, ADA improvements, traffic diversion and speed reduction, and enhanced crosswalk devices and markings. A portion of the funding is for partnerships with Minnesota tribes to develop active transportation projects on reservations.  

Accessibility needs are likely to be met in other projects, both for state agencies, local units of government and private nonprofits. One example of this is for the city of Minneapolis. Walz recommended Minneapolis receive $5 million to upgrade pedestrian curb ramps, for current ADA compliance. The work could include accessible pedestrian signals and signal modifications. The total project cost is $10 million. 

Human services projects eyed 

Some state human services facilities that serve people with disabilities were also included in the governor’s pass at the bonding bill. One recommendation is for $17.8 million to design, remodel, construct and equip buildings for the Minnesota Sex Offender Program on the St. Peter campus. This project would renovate 63,335 square feet in the Sunrise and Tomlinson building and expand capacity in the program’s Community Preparation Services. This additional capacity would permit more individuals to be served in less restrictive settings, allowing the Department of Human Services (DHS) to comply with court-ordered transfers out of the secured perimeter and additional clients to participate in reintegration programming. 

Another $10.4 million is earmarked to replace sewer and water systems at St. Peter campus, and  $475,000 to demolish Johnson Hall, a 23,822 square foot building that is in poor condition. It has been vacant since 2017.  

A $13.45 million allocation is eyed for the Anoka Metro Regional Treatment Center, to remodel the north and south wings of the Miller building. Remodeling would allow the vacant space to be used to serve patients with substance use disorder. The project is Phase I of a multi-phase effort to remodel the building. Phased renovation allows for safety and client service improvements without disrupting operations. 

Walz also recommended $5.484 million to add new and or upgrade current security systems, communications and security monitoring systems at Direct Care and Treatment (DCT) facilities. The improvements would enhance the security and safety of patients and staff within the state operated facilities, to add new and or upgrade current security systems, communications and security monitoring systems. Improvements would enhance the security and safety of patients and staff within the state-operated facilities. 

Read the governor’s entire proposal at https://mn.gov/mmb-stat/documents/budget/capital-budget/final-capital-budget/2022/summary-listing-of-governors-recommendations-by-entity-and-project.pdf