Accessibility improvements to four Minnesota state parks, as well as improvements to state academies and Department of Human Services (DHS) treatment facilities remain on the table as the 2018 Minnesota Legislature approaches its May 21 adjournment date.
The Minnesota Council on Disability is leading the charge on the state parks funding, which would provide $20 million to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to design, develop and complete comprehensive packages of accessibility improvements and upgrades at Fort Snelling, Minneopa Nerstrand Big Woods, and William O’Brien state parks. The improvements are anticipated for day facilities, campground areas, trails, parking facilities, interpretive buildings and exhibits, and other public use areas.
Fort Snelling State Park is at the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers in the Twin Cities, and centers on the pre-statehood fort and Native Americans. Minneopa State Park is in Blue Earth County and was set aside more than a century ago to preserve Minneopa Falls. Nerstrand Big Woods is just northeast of Faribault. William O’Brien State Park is in Washington County.
Erica Schmiel is working on the parks bonding issues for MCOD. She recently told a Minnesota Consortium of Citizens with Disabilities (MNCCD) gathering that signs are positive for some level of parks access funding this session. Gov. Mark Dayton has $10 million in his public works or bonding bill toward accessibility improvements.
The state council has lined up many supports for the parks access funding. They include the Supporters include the National MS Society, Disabled American Veterans, Paralyzed Veterans of America-MN and Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute.
Another focus has been on the St. Peter Regional Treatment Center. In April acting DHS Commissioner Chuck Johnson and Department of Administration Commissioner Matt Massman visited the facility to highlight the importance of improving and maintaining aging care and treatment facilities for people with mental illness, disabilities and chemical dependency.
Dayton’s 2018 public works bill includes $63.4 million for improvements at treatment facilities operated by DHS. The funding would finance renovation and new construction projects to shore up buildings in urgent need of repairs, improve treatment and safety, and help the agency comply with court-ordered transfers of sex offenders.
“This investment will allow us to make long-overdue repairs to psychiatric hospitals, group homes for people with disabilities and many other facilities that care for more than 12,000 vulnerable Minnesotans every year,” Johnson said. “These facilities are critical to our mission and our ability to serve patients and clients, and right now we have too many crises to count. We just can’t afford to put off basic improvements any longer.”
The single largest request is for $18.62 million, to address the most urgent maintenance problems. The work includes replacing roofs, windows, doors and exterior walls; upgrading heating, ventilation and air-conditioning; electrical and plumbing improvements; and tuck-pointing and paving. The funding will allow the agency to do some of the necessary work on DHS’s nearly 200 care and treatment facilities.
Because repairs haven’t been adequately funded in the past, completing all of the work needed would cost $136.9 million. Dayton’s final public works recommendations make tackling deferred maintenance at all state facilities a top priority. Noting that it is far more costly to repair buildings and other infrastructure once they fall into poor condition, Massman said the fiscally responsible approach is to fix problems before they become a crisis.
“It is simple common sense that fixing a leaking roof sooner rather than later is better for the house and the wallet,” Massman said. “Governor Dayton’s public works proposal would make commonsense investments to repair aging public buildings in the St. Peter and Mankato area and across Minnesota before the problems and price tag get even worse.”
In addition to asset preservation funding, the governor’s public works recommendations for DHS also include:
• $16.19 million to remodel three buildings on the St. Peter campus for the Minnesota Sex Offender Program (M<SOP). The plan provides new program space and adds 50 new beds for Community Preparation Services, a less restrictive setting for clients in the later stages of treatment. The new beds will make it possible for the program to comply with a growing number of court orders to move clients into community preparation.
• $13.88 million to design and construct two secure assisted-living facilities on the St. Peter campus for MSOP clients who have been provisionally discharged by the courts but have age-related or medical conditions and cannot live on their own without help.
• $2.2 million to install new heating, ventilation and air-conditioning equipment and bring the electrical system up to current standards in the dietary services building in the St. Peter campus. Staff who work in the 50-year-old facility prepare about 730,000 meals annually for patients and clients.
• $5.79 million to design and remodel vacant space for a specialized admissions unit to evaluate new patients at the Anoka-Metro Regional Treatment Center. The project also includes a small crisis unit for patients whose behavior may be disruptive.
• $6.75 million for extensive roof replacement and heating, ventilation and air-conditioning and other repairs at Anoka. (Information from DHS was used to prepare this article.)