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House, Senate bonding bills include Itasca Park

Minnesota House and Senate public works bills would pump millions of dollars into University of Minnesota facilities at Itasca State Park.

Both bills would provide $3.67 million as part of the U of M's bonding for its Itasca Biological Station, which provides a living laboratory serving more than 150 students and faculty.

The measure is part of the House's $77 million bonding bill for the U of M and the Senate's $193.3 million University bonding bill. Gov. Tim Pawlenty, with his $100 million U of M bill, did not include the Itasca station.

Rep. Brita Sailer, DFL-Park Rapids, who is carrying the measure, said Friday improvements to the Itasca Biological Station "will not only provide immediate construction jobs, but will turn a seasonal field station into a year- round facility with full-time staff jobs for local residents who currently have only seasonal employment. In addition to these jobs, it will draw more researchers to the facility who will bring funding from outside sources with them."

The $5.5 million project would be funded with $3.67 million in state general obligation bonds and $1.83 million in institutional funds.

"The Itasca Biological Station is a unique setting within Itasca State Park that serves as a living laboratory for 150 students/faculty daily in the summer (75 in winter)," according to the project summary. "It provides innovative research and education programs in experimental hands-on environment for undergraduate and graduate students."

The new campus center would be a 10,800-square-foot, year-round facility and a multi-purpose building to support the research and outreach functions of the station and renovate the existing classroom in the historic Lakeside Lab.

In addition, the project would remove a number of obsolete, single-function buildings which will save energy and operational costs, the project summary says. The project also moves the station toward its goal of energy self-efficiency as its site orientation will allow for the use of passive solar energy and earth or sod roofing to maximize northern exposure.

Sailer noted her other project for House 2B, both bills include $5.78 million for the Red Lake School District to continue finishing the Red Lake High School and Middle School complex. The district had requested $34.98 million.

"One of the big reasons our state is in a financial mess and our economy is so shaky is that people are out of work," said Sailer of the $999.8 million House bonding bill. "While state government can't solve every problem, one of the best things we can do to jump start the Minnesota's job market is to pass an early, targeted bonding bill."

Sailer said the bill is a responsible sum given that bonding rates are favorable and construction bids are coming in lower than projected. She said it makes for a good deal for taxpayers - one of the few bright spots in a down economy. A number of economic models have predicted that $1 billion in bonding could create between 10,000 to 20,000 private and public sector jobs.

Slated for quick passage in both the House and the Senate, the bill is expected to be on the Governor's desk within weeks.

"This legislation is a key piece of our jobs-focused agenda," said Sailer. "I'm hopeful we can move it through quickly because thousands of Minnesotans are counting on us."