Disability-focused brick-and-mortar projects around Minnesota finally got answers from the 2020 Minnesota Legislature. Gov. Tim Walz signed the bonding bill into law October 21, ending more than a year’s wait for project contenders.
Work for more accessibility at Minnesota state parks and safety improvements for Minnesota State Academies were among the disability-related highlights in the bill.
Bonding was a key focus of the fifth legislative special session in mid-October. Bill passage wasn’t easy. The House debated the measure for 10 hours, indicative of the months of past conflict over the bill. It finally passed on a 100-34 vote.
House members then sent the bill to the Senate and adjourned, which left no option for Senate amendments. The Senate debated the bill for three hours before it passed, 64-3.
The October session was considered to be the last chance to pass a bonding package before the end of the year. It funds an array of projects statewide including college and university buildings, parks and trails, roads and bridges, state buildings, water and sewer projects, and a host of other needs.
Money was spread throughout the state, for a variety of programs. For example, housing efforts got more than $100 million. That’s a big win for disability advocacy groups that worked as part of the Homes for All coalition.
Metro transit gained $2 million, with Twin Cities metro area bus rapid transit projects gaining $55 million. The new Institute for Child Development at the University of Minnesota is tagged for $129 million.
The approved project list was winnowed down from submissions totaling more than $5.3 billion. That total is a state record.
Walz released his bonding recommendations in January and immediately met opposition from Senate Republicans, who said his proposal was too costly. The bonding bill failed to get through the Minnesota Legislature’s regular session and subsequent special sessions called as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf and State Academy for the Blind, both in Faribault, had two of four requests approved. Academy leaders submitted four requests totaling $18.010 million. Walz recommended all projects.
The largest request, for safety and security needs, was funded at the full amount of $5.83 million. It is for a safety and security building corridor on the State Academy for the Deaf campus, and major renovations of interior space, restrooms, offices, classrooms, science and technology labs for Smith and Quinn halls on that campus. The corridor would provide for a central/main entrance and controlled access for all three buildings for student arrivals, parents/guardians, visitors, vendors and contractors. The controlled access to the education directors’ office areas would include a waiting area and public restrooms.
The corridor will also improve accessibility for students and staff in wheelchairs and who use other mobility devices.
State academies also received $3.150 million for asset preservation, reduced from an ask of $5.73 million.
Requests for funding to renovate Pollard Hall on the deaf school campus and Kramer, Brandeen and Rode halls on the blind school campus weren’t approved. Nor was money for pre-design work to determine the feasibility of renovating existing spaces or establishing a student services/activities center on the Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf campus.
The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) had several requests funded including $3 million to improve access to state parks. A $10 million request was made, to provide comprehensive accessibility at William O’Brien State Park in Washington County and to design projects at Fort Snelling State Park. The work would build on planning dollars awarded in 2018.
Accessibility of capitol complex facilities was a focus for requests from the state’s Department of Administration. While a request for $2 million for an ADA Accommodation Fund was turned down, the bonding package does earmark $100,000 for the state office building tunnel, which has areas that are hard to navigate with heavy doors, dated restrooms, lack of handrails and exterior ramps.
The Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) sought $66.3 million in bonding requests and received $27.409 million. DHS obtained $8 million for asset preservation for facilities. Also approved is $1.794 million toward the second phase of work at the St. Peter Regional Treatment Center. That is greatly reduced from a request for $18 million, to make the buildings usable for program operations for the Minnesota Sex Offender Program, and increase capacity for clients in community preparation services.
Other approved projects for DHS include $10 million toward regional mental health crisis centers, and a total of $5.865 million for facilities in St. Louis Park and St. Louis County.