House panel hears local bonding requests
From new business facilities at Bemidji State University to a regional shooting sports center, a House panel heard about $17 million in capital bonding requests Wednesday night.
It will hear a $13 million request this morning when it meets at the Headwaters Science Center on a $26.1 million project for a new Science Center.
After touring Bemidji State current and potential projects Wednesday, members of the panel ate in the newly refurbished Sattgast Hall and heard from a number of presenters on local bonding requests.
About 50 legislators, presenters and students joined in the dinner and pitches for projects.
House Capital Investment Committee Chairwoman Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, said an eventual 2010 bonding bill will probably total between $900 million and $1 billion.
She noted the new Sattgast Hall as a model laboratory for other Minnesota State Colleges and Universities science buildings and that the former Sattgast Hall "was the worst in MnSCU."
Mayor Richard Lehmann thanked the panel for its previous support in bonding for the Bemidji Regional Event Center, which he said "is now more upright now than it is down."
The center "will be the shining star of the north for Bemidji and BSU," he said. "As we continue to grow we need the amenities to grow positively."
Higher Ed requests
Topping BSU's list of requests is $3.42 million for planning and design of new business school facilities, moving them from a windowless area of Decker Hall up campus to Upper Hobson Union.
The full $21 million project phased over three bonding cycles includes moving Student Life offices from Hobson to a renovated Memorial Hall and relocating the campus bookstore to a more visible location.
The project ranks 27th of 31 projects on the MnSCU project priority list.
Also involved are demolishing Sanford Hall, built in 1918, and other buildings built in the 1970s.
"We want to do a lot of neat things to increase the efficiency of our space," said Bill Maki, BSU vice president for finance and administration. "We want to take advantage of our natural assets ... with the lake being one of them. For many, many years it seemed the university built with its back to the lake. We're trying to open this up and take advantage of the lake."
Moving the business facilities to Upper Hobson, which would be expanded, would also bring the function to the "academic heart" of the campus, Maki said.
BSU President Jon Quistgaard put in his pitch for $2 million for land acquisition -- to repay the BSU Foundation for purchasing the old Bemidji High School on 15th Street, an item that has passed twice before while getting the ax from the governor.
Acquiring the 11-acre site is rated last at 31st by MnSCU, which includes another school's land acquisition request as well.
"We want one more shot at buying this 11 acres," Quistgaard said. "It is the only real land we have for expansion purposes. ... As we look out 50, 75 years, we know we need that space."
When a legislator asked if BSU would settle for less than $2 million, because of declining land values, Quistgaard said the BSU Foundation is getting "edgy" about not getting its endowment funding back, and that the property is prime in the city and will rise in price again.
Two projects are also on MnSCU's systemwide list of science and math upgrades, ranked 24th.
They include $550,000 for psychology classroom and lab space renovation at Hagg-Sauer Hall, Maki said, and $550,000 for the final phase of industrial technology renovations at Northwest Technical College.
The two local campuses are also requesting $3.5 million of MnSCU's $110 million in Higher Education Asset Preservation and Replacement projects. Chief among them are $1.2 million for Hagg-Sauer Hall roof replacement and $786,000 for Education/Art Building roof replacement.
The Leech Lake Tribal College, while not now receiving state funding, opened conversations that may lead to state funding.
Kyle Erickson, Leech Lake Tribal College director of advancement, said tribal colleges have traditionally been funded by the federal government but that federal funding has slipped in recent years. He noted that the states of North Dakota and Montana have begun providing operational funding to tribal colleges in their states.
The Leech Lake Tribal College has a fall enrollment of 246 students of which 87 percent are American Indian, he said. The college is very much a public institution whose goal is to send graduates to four-year schools.
"The tribal college funding from the federal government is woefully inadequate," Erickson said. "Tribal colleges have a very unique opportunity, as Leech Lake Tribal College does, to provide huge outside economic benefits to a small community."
The tribal college's Sharon Kotla outlined a current $7 million phase 3 construction project to connect two wings of the college and expand the campus library and offices. The new 37,000 square foot addition will be geothermal, and plans call for retrofitting the two current wings to geothermal energy.
Kotla said tribal colleges already have a silent partnership with MnSCU institutions.
"We're preparing our native students to go on to four-year colleges," she said. "We want our native students to go on -- we don't want to see 40 percent of the jail native prisoners. That's what we're here for, the college to create students to go out into the workforce and be positive, contributing members of society. We really need the help of the state to do that."
Beltrami County Sheriff Phil Hodapp pitched the need for county jail renovations basically increasing energy and operational efficiencies to a 23-year-old jail that is over capacity but with services not keeping pace.
The county is asking for $1.99 million in state bonding for the nearly $4 million project.
"The growth we have been experiencing has been a great thing for our community, but of course with it we've had a commensurate growth in criminal acts and things of that nature," Hodapp said.
"Beltrami County is uniquely situated where we are between three Indian reservations," he said. "We really celebrate and appreciate our native American brothers and sisters that we have here (but) we are a regional hub so everything that goes on in the several counties that surround Beltrami County is attracted to the Bemidji area because of all the exciting things that we have going on. The end result in some of the activities is some of them getting arrested."
About 40 percent of the jail population is American Indian, he said.
When a lawmaker asked if the county had pursued a regional jail approach with surrounding counties, Hodapp said many of the agencies that bring prisons to Bemidji don't have jails to begin with -- such as the FBI and its Safe Trails Task Force, State Patrol and Border Patrol.
The jail was originally constructed to hold 60 inmates, but was allowed a 110 capacity with double bunking, and 60 minimum security beds were added several years ago with a renovation project, he said. But services such as kitchen and medical facilities were not expanded.
Also, the old building needs mechanical systems replacement, including surveillance equipment and heating and cooling systems, Hodapp said. "All this equipment we're talking about is high-efficiency equipment that will be needed to upgrade this jail to make it more cheap to operate."
Paul Bunyan Trail Bridge
The city of Bemidji is seeking $1 million for the $1.3 million project to construct an overpass bridge over Highway 197 east of the Hampton Inn & Suites to connect the Paul Bunyan Trail on either side of the roadway.
"Right now they're dodging six lanes of traffic," Bemidji City Engineer Craig Gray said when a lawmaker asked how pedestrians and bicyclists are crossing from one part of the trail to the other.
Some confusion came from lawmakers over whether the bridge would be used by pedestrians and cross-country skiers in the winter, but Gray said the Paul Bunyan Trail is principally a snowmobile trail in the winter and that there are other paved trails in the city for pedestrians and skiers.
About 21,000 people cross the highway on the trail during the summer months, Gray said.
"This is a very key point of completing the Paul Bunyan Trail," said Bemidji City Councilor Jerry Downs of the 110-mile trail from Brainerd to Bemidji.
Shooting Sports Center
A public-private partnership is hoping to build a Regional Shooting Sports Center on 360 acres of publicly held land in Eckles Township.
Dennis Zeto of the Bemidji Trap and Skeet Club told lawmakers that the multi-purpose shooting center will help youth to law enforcement. Zeto geared most of his presentation to how the center will help train youth proper gun-handling. About 1,600 kids a year are trained.
Of 100,000 people in the region, Zeto said fully 25 percent hunt. The state Department of Natural Resources has materials but lacks the budget to conduct training, he said, so the Shooting Sports Center would provide both a building for classroom use and a shooting field.
The group is asking for $1,8 million in state bonding for the first phase of construction of the total $7.8 million project, with Beltrami County serving as fiscal agent.
The first phase includes constructing a rifle and pistol range, rudimentary skeet and trap shooting range and a training facility.