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Local bonding projects would improve infrastructure

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BEMIDJI – Roger Erickson experienced a sense of déjà vu when he walked through the kitchens that serve the Red Lake middle and high schools.

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“Because it looked like the kitchens in my school when I was going to school back in the 60s,” Erickson said. “The tiling was the same, the style was the same.”

Now a first-term DFL legislator from Baudette, Rep. Erickson hopes the state will provide the school district money to improve its facility.

It is one of several bonding proposals released this week by Gov. Mark Dayton and the state House that would have local impacts. The House bill passed the capital investment committee Thursday. 

It is yet to be seen whether the Senate will release its own requests for infrastructure projects.

The House bill, released Tuesday, includes almost a $5.5 million capital loan for the Red Lake School District for a long-overdue kitchen renovation project.

“It’s very inefficient,” Erickson said. “This is just going to be a much more efficient, much better way of producing a good product for their students.”

Red Lake School District Superintendent Steve Wymore did not return a call seeking comment.

The House’s $800 million bonding bill, introduced by Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, provides funds to create a centralized kitchen area and a loading dock.

The project was not included in Dayton’s bonding proposal introduced earlier in the week, but Erickson was confident it could finally be passed this year.

“We think we can get Gov. Dayton on board,” he said.

In Dayton’s proposal, he provided $35 million in infrastructure improvements at state colleges across Minnesota, including a roofing project at Bemidji State University.

“The BSU items in Dayton’s bonding bill are two contiguous roofing projects, on the 8,000-square-foot Gillett Recreation-Fitness Center and a connector to the adjoining Physical Education and Recreation Center,” BSU spokesman Scott Faust wrote in an email. “The original rubber membrane roofing was installed in 1988 and was rated for 20 years.”

He added that the new roof would be rated for a 40-year-lifespan and would cost $1.039 million.

One project not included in either proposal was a new veterans home in Bemidji.

Rep. John Persell, DFL-Bemidji, introduced several bills this session related to the project, including one that would bond for $250,000 for planning and design for a 90-bed facility. Sen. Tom Saxhaug, DFL-Grand Rapids, said Thursday that if the Senate releases a bonding bill, the planning money would be included.

Persell noted that this year is technically supposed to be a budget year, while even years would typically focus on bonding. He said the focus this year was on “shovel-ready” projects.

“While I’m disappointed, I’m certainly not giving up any of the intensity of my advocacy for the Beltrami County veterans home,” Persell said.

Saxhaug included a provision establishing a veterans home in Beltrami County in his state departments and veterans finance bill that was introduced Wednesday.

Under that bill, 35 percent of the project’s funding would come from the state, local governments, veteran’s organizations or businesses, while 65 percent would come from the federal government. His bill does not bond for the project.

“This is a first step,” he said.

The veterans home project has been in the works for years. Local officials say the long distances from northwest Minnesota to other veterans homes and the amount of American Indian veterans here make Bemidji a prime location for a home.

Sanford Health also announced last year that it would donate 15 acres of land adjacent to their facilities in Bemidji for the home.

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John Hageman
John Hageman covers local business and Grand Forks' legislative delegation. Get more business news at aroundtown.areavoices.com. 
(701) 780-1244
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