Bonding requests generating debate

Narrow and dangerous staircases are just one of the physical problems at the Minnesota Security Hospital in St. Peter.
Narrow and dangerous staircases are just one of the physical problems at the Minnesota Security Hospital in St. Peter.

Capital improvement requests that affect Minnesotans with disabilities are still in play at the capitol, as work on the 2014 bonding bill continues. The House released its bonding projects list in April, supporting a statewide list of projects totaling $975 million. The Senate hadn’t released its bill as of month’s end. Agreement needs to be before legislators finish the session by May 19.

One focus for the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) is funding to make improvements at the Minnesota Security Hospital in St. Peter. DHS Commissioner Lucinda Jesson visited the hospital in mid-April to highlight the urgent need to build a safer, more therapeutic facility for mentally ill and dangerous patients.

“Our bonding request is critical for the future of Minnesota Security Hospital,” Jesson said at a briefing with reporters. “We hope legislators will recognize the importance of creating a better, safer environment for our patients and our employees.”

Minnesota Security Hospital primarily treats patients committed by the courts as mentally ill and dangerous. The current facility includes split-level residential wings, narrow stairways and poor sightlines. These features create risks for patients and employees and make it difficult to monitor patients effectively. Gov. Mark Dayton has recommended approval of a full $56 million request to construct a new facility but he House bonding bill would cut $15 million from that amount.

During her visit, Jesson met with employees of the hospital and the Minnesota Sex Offender Program, which share the St. Peter campus. The bonding request would help physically separate the distinct programs onto the upper and lower campuses.

DHS is also seeking $7.4 million for renovations to accommodate sex offender treatment clients in the later stages of treatment. The House bonding bill doesn’t cover this request. It does have support from Dayton.

Requests from state academies have met a mixed fate thus far. The House is recommending $9.6 million for construction of a new dormitory and asset preservation costs at the Minnesota State Academies for the Blind and Deaf in Faribault. The dormitory in need of replacement is Frechette Hall, the boys’ dormitory on the Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf (MSAD) campus. The building was built in 1967. Dayton is proposing $6.5 million toward demolish and replacing Frechette Hall. The rest of the recommended $1.65 million allocation would be used for converting other campus space into living quarters during the dormitory construction period. MSAD has estimated costs at $810,000 for 2014 and $9.9 million for 2015.

The House didn’t recommend a $1.5 million to complete renovation of Pollard Hall, a second boys’ dormitory at MSAD.

 

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