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Legislators get first hand look at possible projects for 2014 bonding bill

Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, left, listens to Bill Maki, vice president of finance and administration discuss a proposal for renovations and demolitions at Bemidji State University and Northwest Technical College to members of the Senate Capital Investment Committee Thursday afternoon. Standing with them is Sen. Carla Nelson, R-Rochester, and Rep. John Persell, DFL- Bemidji. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI —The quest for funding continued Thursday for spokespeople from the Save the Carnegie Campaign and Bemidji State University as they tried to convince state legislators to award bonding money to their respective projects.

Bemidji Mayor Rita Albrecht and BSU Vice President of Finance and Administration Bill Maki each delivered speeches on different stops of the Minnesota Senate Capital Investment Committee’s tour of the state. The tour is the latest step in the process of deciding which development projects will receive funding in the 2014 bonding bill. The House of Representatives Capital Investment Committee visited Bemidji last month.

Save the Carnegie was first up on Thursday as the senators entered Carnegie Library through a stairwell only about an arm’s length away from the traffic whizzing by on Minnesota Highway 197. As Albrecht noted in her presentation, the library’s close proximity to the road creates safety issues not just for visitors but for the building as well when snow is pushed up against the 100-year-old façade during winter plowing. Save the Carnegie is seeking $800,000 in bonding money to help fund moving the library about 15 feet back toward the lake, as well as extensive renovations to the building itself.

"This is our opportunity to do something special and renovate this building," Albrecht said.

Committee Chairman LeRoy Stumpf, DFL-Plummer, said the fact the Save The Carnegie campaign had already raised a large portion of the necessary funds would work in their favor during the bond money allocation process.

"It seems like a very worthy project, from the information that was presented," he said.

Fellow committee member Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, was impressed with the library’s plan to generate revenue by renting out its basement following the renovations.

"The concept … that you have sustaining revenue for the building is huge," she said.

However, both senators brought up the possibility of the library getting its funding somewhere other than the bonding bill — for example, seeking a Legacy Amendment grant instead.

Carnegie Library’s $800,000 bonding request is dwarfed by the number Bemidji State University/Northwest Technical College is asking for. BSU/NTC has two irons in the bond-request fire: $13,790,000 for potential building remodeling and demolitions on campus as well as an additional $7,884,000 that’s mostly for systems upgrades, like upgrades to the power grid.

The larger $13 million request will fund a project to renovate or demolish four buildings on the BSU campus. Plans are to move Business/Accounting classes to the top floor of Memorial Hall, move Student Services to Decker Hall, demolish Sanford Hall and map out the demolition of Hagg-Sauer hall.

Maki said the BSU system has been fine-tuning its bonding requests for the renovation/demolition project for the past six years.

"Now we’re at the point where we have a really good project, and we’re pretty confident it’ll be viewed favorably," he said.

If the bonding money is awarded, work on the renovation/demolition project will begin next July, he said.

Maki said both of BSU’s requests are submitted as parts of one giant request made on behalf of the entire Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) system. MnSCU ranks each project on the list it sends to the Legislature based on priority. The remodeling/demolition project was ranked third and the systems upgrade was part of a request that ranked number one, Maki said.

Sen. Tom Saxhaug, DFL-Grand Rapids, represents the Bemidji area and was present at the BSU tour stop. Saxhaug does not sit on the Capital Investment Committee but he said he’ll give every Bemidji project a helping hand.

"I’ll be supporting them all as best I can," he said.

Zach Kayser
Zach Kayser covers local government and city issues for the Pioneer. He previously worked for the Wadena Pioneer Journal, and is an alumni of the University of Minnesota, Morris. 
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