Projects to improve accessibility at an array of state facilities are in the hunt for support from the Minnesota Legislature. Upgrades at state academies and hospitals are also vying for funding, in some cases seeking dollars to renovate or replace facilities that are almost a century old.
With a record $5.5 billion in bonding requests on the table for 2022, difficult decisions are ahead. Requests were made in summer 2021 and have been undergoing review since then. State lawmakers have visited many of the project sites.
Gov. Tim Walz makes his recommendations January 17, which will then launch deliberations by the House and Senate.
Bonding will be a primary focus for state lawmakers, with decisions not expected until session’s end, said Mitch Berggren, lobbyist for the Minnesota Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (MNCCD).
Passing a bonding bill requires a three-fifths majority in the House and Senate. Disagreement over capital projects can mean the difference between getting projects supported or waiting another two years. Sometimes a dispute over single project can sideline the entire bonding list.
The last state bonding bill, passed in 2020, was $1.9 billion bonding bill in 2020. That was about one-third the amount requested.
State academies have four requests in, with dormitory renovations topping the list. The academies in Faribault are requesting $6.5 million for renovation of Pollard Hall on the Minnesota State Academy for the deaf campus, as well as Kramer, Brandeen and Rode Dorms at the Minnesota State Academy for the Blind (MSAB).
Pollard Hall at MSAD was constructed in 1937 as a residence for elementary age students. It has had smaller renovation projects, including work done more than a decade ago to accommodate a now-discontinued Volunteers of America program. Pollard has gotten a new roof and new windows during the past decade.
The dormitories at MSAB date from 1982, and have had few improvements since then. For both academics, improvements would include mechanical system work as well as physical improvements.
Ranked second is an ask for $200,000 in pre-design funds for renovating existing spaces or establishing a student services/activities center at MSAD. The intent is to eventually replace two aging buildings and outdated/inaccessible facilities, including the gymnasium, athletic facilities, cafeteria, multi-purpose room, and other service areas. Lauristen Gym was built in 1931. Rodman Hall, which houses the cafeteria, was built in 1924.
Another predesign funding request ranked third, with $200,000 sought for MSAB pool renovations. The pool would eventually be put in a new location and replaced with a more accessible facility.
The fourth-ranked academies’ request is for $2.7 million in asset preservation funds to maintain and preserve buildings on both campuses.
The top-ranked of 14 human services requests is for $17.8 million, for St. Peter Regional Treatment Center. This would fund the second phase of a project to design, remodel and construct, furnish and equip existing buildings for the Minnesota Sex Offender Program, to increase capacity and better serve clients in court-ordered treatment.
Another $13.45 million is requested to predesign, design, renovate, furnish and equip the north and south wings of the Miller Building at the Anoka Metro Regional Treatment Center for residential treatment facilities for the mental health and substance abuse treatment division. That is the third-ranked human services request.
Accessibility for state parks continues to be a need. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) seeks $20 million to improve the accessibility of state-managed lands and facilities. The request, which is ranked fifth by the DNR, would enable the agency to complete accessibility improvements to facilities at William O’Brien State Park. The park is along the St. Croix River. Improvements there received partial funding in 2020.
State officials want to use lessons learned from Fort Snelling State Park and two high-visitation wildlife management areas, Carlos Avery and Whitewater. When complete, the project would include accessibility renovations of bathrooms, parking areas, showers, campsites, trails and a variety of other features.
For other state facilities, the Department of Administration seeks $2 million to implement a centralized funding source for use by state agencies, boards, and commissions, the legislative and judicial branches of government, and constitutional offices to correct physical barriers in state-owned and state-leased buildings.
One newer funding request that would directly affect people with disabilities is Fairview’s proposal to tear down Bethesda Hospital in St. Paul, to replace it with a 144-bed psychiatric and substance-abuse hospital.
The facility would be operated in partnership with Acadia Healthcare, a large national behavioral healthcare provider. The announcement was made in mid-December and would represent a plus-$50 million investment.
While Bethesda is the preferred site, other sites in the St. Paul area have been looked at. The longtime hospital has had many uses in recent years, going from an acute-care facility to becoming a COVID-19 hospital during the pandemic. It closed as a hospital in fall 2020 and has been used by Ramsey County as a homeless shelter. That use ends in the spring.
Fairview is using the St. Joseph’s Hospital in St. Paul for inpatient mental health care through June 2022. The healthcare provider has asked the state health department for a public interest review of the project. It would need legislative approval because state law blocks new hospital construction.
Read the list of projects submitted for bonding at https://mn.gov/mmb/