Bonding to be a battleground during session

Bonding to be a battleground during session

Bonding will dominate discussion when the 2020 Minnesota Legislature convenes. Many projects related to disability accommodations and services are in the chase for funding, including money for improvements at the two state academies and state hospital facilities, accommodations at state buildings, state parks access and even money for a much-needed employment training facility that could help address the direct support professionals’ worker shortage. 

Gov. Tim Walz’s proposal calls for $2 billion in general obligation bonds, and $600 million in other funding sources, including appropriation bonds, general fund cash, trunk highway bonds and user-financed bonds. The investment would leverage an additional $887 million in federal, local and private funds to provide more than $3.4 billion in investment in Minnesota’s capital infrastructure. 

The funding package immediately met criticism from Republicans, who said it was too high. Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, said at a news conference last month he’d oppose a bonding bill over $1 billion. 

Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, is a veteran of many bonding negotiations and committee deliberations. Looking at what Walz has brought forward, she sees plusses and minuses. She is especially pleased to see a request for International Institute in St. Paul. The nonprofit wishes to build a $12.5 million new facility. Walz recommends $5.5 million toward the project, which would provide more workforce training space for new Americans. 

“I’m thrilled to see that request recommended for funding,” said Hausman. Workers trained through the program fill jobs in long-term care and health care, fields which are experiencing statewide worker shortages. 

“They’re doing great work,” she said of the International Institute. 

How bonding will shake during the session remains to be seen, said Hausman. Walz’s proposal includes projects from around the state. As the proposal is winnowed down during the session and projects are dropped, supporters may also drop by the wayside. “When we start negotiations and we’re very far apart, we run the risk of running out of time and having to put something together quickly.” 

Bonding for brick-and-mortar projects occurs during even years in Minnesota. Local governments and state agencies sent their bonding requests to Minnesota Management and Budget in July. The total value of requests received was $5.3 billion. Of that amount $4 billion came from state agencies, including colleges and universities. Another $1.3 billion came from local governments, for their own requests or for nonprofit requests they sponsored. 

The governor is required by state law to make his bonding recommendations by January 15. 

Many requests, from state agencies and from local governments around the state, include asks for funding to make facilities accessible. Others center on facilities for people with disabilities. Here is an overview of requests: 

Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf and State Academy for the Blind, both in Faribault, fared well in Walz’s recommendations. Administrators at the two academies submitted four requests totaling $18.010 million. Walz has recommended all four projects, at the full amount. 

Largest of the requests is $5.830 million for safety and security needs. It would cover the costs of 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. 

Part of the request, which totals $3.85 million, is for the construction of a safety and security building corridor. The remainder of the funding is for a major renovation to Smith and Quinn Halls. The academy has received $50,000 for pre-design and planning of the Security Corridor project. 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. This means visitors would no longer have to use restrooms meant for staff and students and would no longer have access to hallways, classrooms and offices. 

The corridor/reception area would become the primary entrance which would be much easier to locate. Currently, the entries are somewhat hidden from view. It would also provide for a more welcoming environment for students, staff and visitors. The corridor will also improve accessibility for students and staff in wheelchairs and who use other mobility devices. 

Current classroom design and setup for both buildings haven’t changed much from the original construction in 1971 for Quinn Hall and 1973 for Smith Hall. Both buildings predate the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). 

An additional $5.73 million is sought for assets preservation at both state academy campuses. The capital needs include projects including roof replacements, work on building exteriors and replacement of mechanical systems. The work has to be done with an eye toward historic preservation as two buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places. Other buildings are 75 to 100 years old. 

The state academies are also requesting $6.3 million for the renovation of Pollard Hall on the deaf school campus and Kramer, Brandeen and Rode halls on the blind school campus. The campus for the blind’s dormitories were built in 1982. Pollard Hall dates from 1937. 

Another request is for $150,000 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. A new building would replace two aging buildings and outdated/ inaccessible facilities, including the gymnasium, athletic facilities, cafeteria, multi-purpose room and other service areas. The gym itself dates from the 1920s. 

The state’s Department of Administration has requests impacting accessibility of capitol complex facilities. One proposal is for $2 million for an ADA Accommodation Fund, so that all people are able to freely access and move throughout the buildings. One much-criticized facet of the capitol grounds is its tunnel system, which has areas that are hard to navigate. Heavy doors, dated restrooms, lack of handrails and exterior ramps are among needs the fund could support. 

Wilkins Hall entryway
Wilkins Hall is a new MSAD dormitory, completed in 2018. Other dormitories need work.

Walz recommended the funds in his bonding proposal. State agencies, boards, and commissions, the legislative and judicial branches of government, and constitutional offices would be able to access the money to correct physical barriers in state-owned and state-leased buildings. Improvements would be made to physical access to state services and employment opportunities. This would serve state workers and the general public. 

The Minnesota Council on Disability would review each request and recommend approval or disapproval. The Department of Administration would manage the fund and deliver the construction improvement 

But one facility improvement Walz doesn’t support is work to replace the Centennial Office Building, which opened in 1958. The building is sometimes the focus of accessibility complaints. The requests were for about $200 million in general obligation bonds and $4 million from the general fund to provide for design, construction and temporary relocation of tenants. A new building would be 280,000 square feet in size, with a 604-stall parking ramp and cafeteria. It would be connected to the rest of the capitol complex via the tunnel system. 

Housing of all types, including accessible and supportive housing, are in the bonding mix. The Minnesota Housing Finance Agency (MHFA) is seeking $180 million. Walz bumped that up to $260 million. 

The focus includes supportive housing, senior housing, community land trust and housing preservation, and working with private for-profit and non-profit developers. The preservation focus would be on the state’s aging Section 8 housing stock. 

A portion of the bond proceeds would be used to construct or acquire and rehabilitate properties for use as permanent supportive housing for households who are experiencing homelessness, including youth, veterans, those experiencing long-term homelessness and for persons with disabilities or people who struggle with mental illness. 

Permanent supportive housing is defined as affordable rental housing with connections to services necessary to enable tenants to live in the community and improve their lives, according to state documents. Supportive housing creates housing stability for the lowest income households and households with service needs so they can address significant mental health challenges, chronic health conditions, substance abuse disorders and other barriers to self-sufficiency. The housing stability and additional services help individuals and families complete school or training, get connected to programs, achieve employment and eventually attain independent living 

Veterans needs are also the subject of bonding requests. The Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs (MDVA) made $34.7 million in requests. Walz recommended three requests, at $15 million. 

MDVA occupies 1.2 million square feet in 64 buildings with a replacement value of $310.7 million dollars. In 2018/2019, MDVA requested a security assessment from the Department of Homeland Security for the Minneapolis, Hastings and Silver Bay Veterans Homes and campuses. 

As a result, a request was made for $8.4 million to install a standardized and centralized security system that will enable local and remote access to security cameras and footage, and ensure secure door locking and limited access for each home and cemetery. In addition to those campuses reviewed by the Department of Homeland Security, this project also includes security updates for the three MDVA Veterans Homes in Little Falls, Preston and Duluth and for veterans’ cemeteries. 

Veterans’ homes have a variety of systems and several vendors that provide inconsistent support throughout the facilities, and various levels of security apparatus, some of which lack the recommended level for securing these facilities; for example, nine of these buildings have 24/7 occupancy and house vulnerable adults. Walz recommended $4.2 million for the project. 

State parks access is a follow-up request from the Minnesota Council on Disability through the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Walz recommended the $10 million sought. It would expand on a $500,000 design allocation made in 2018. 

canoeing in William O'Brien State Park
William O’Brien State Park is eyed for accessibility improvements

The funds are sought to create comprehensive accessibility at William O’Brien State Park in Washington County and to design projects at Fort Snelling State Park. Project components would include renovations of bathrooms, showers, campsites, trails and day use facilities, and development of new accessible amenities to serve visitors of all abilities. One goal of the project is to upgrade William O’Brien State Park to serve as a showcase. That would affect the daytime use of facilities at Lake Alice, the interpretive center, riverway and savanna campgrounds, riverside group camp, trails, water access, wayfinding and signage. 

One idea is to develop accessible amenities such as yurts or wall tents. 

Many buildings at state parks are more than 50 years old and are not compliant with current ADA standards. “Recent renovation and construction meets ADA standards, but this is only being accomplished on a building-by-building basis and many parks remain only partially accessible,” according to state documents. 

The Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) has several bonding requests totaling $66.3 million. The largest is for $20 million is requested to maintain capital assets throughout Minnesota, in the form of direct care and treatment services. Walz is recommending $62.3 million, trimming some requests. Asset preservation is recommended for $16 million. 

Another request is for $18 million for the second phase of a multi-part project to design and construct, furnish and equip existing buildings on the lower campus of the St. Peter Regional Treatment Center. This would make the buildings usable for program operations for the Minnesota Sex Offender Program, and would increase capacity for clients in community preparation services. These clients are court-ordered to continue treatment in a less restrictive environment. Three buildings are targeted for renovations. Walz recommended full funding for the request. 

Anoka Metro Regional Treatment Center is the focus of a $6.6 million request to do design, renovate, furnish and equip the north wing of the Miller Residence of the treatment center for residential treatment facilities for the mental health and substance abuse treatment division. The funding would be for the first phase of a three-phase project. The north wing is currently empty. Walz recommended full funding. 

seats marked with name pages
Seats were reserved at the Minnesota Council on Disability forum

Another $1.75 million is recommended by the governor to design, construct, and furnish a large motor activity and ancillary space for the Child and Adolescent Behavioral Health Services facility in Willmar. It is a 16-bed inpatient psychiatric hospital for children and adolescents in Willmar. The project was funded by state lawmakers in 2017 for its facility. The current request would provide grounds improvement as well as needed rehabilitative recreational space. 

The Willmar facility is an inpatient psychiatric hospital for children and adolescents who need crisis stabilization, comprehensive assessment and intensive treatment for complex mental health conditions. Many patients engage in physically aggressive and destructive behaviors, and their treatment needs exceed the capacities of their families and other community providers. Work on the 18,000 square foot, 16-bed hospital which was funded by a $7.53 million appropriation in the 2017, continues. That appropriation allowed DHS to begin work on the facility. 

A $1.2 million request is for predesign for the DHS Cambridge campus, with the goal of eliminating a campus power plant and instead tying into municipal facilities. The Cambridge campus is a 63 acre site within Cambridge, Minnesota, with eight residential cottages and several support buildings. Currently, there are no inpatient programs operating on the site. The Department of Human Services’ Cambridge campus is an underutilized asset with a complex history. This proposal seeks funding to conduct a predesign to eliminate the centralized power plant and tie into municipal utilities. 

Both the Cambridge and Willmar requests are recommended for full funding by Walz. 

Read more about bonding requests at Minnesota’s Current (2020 Proposed) Capital Budget