House, Senate bonding bills include planning, design funds for Headwaters Science Center

The Headwaters Science Center got its foot in the door as both House and Senate bonding bills provide planning funds. It's not what Executive Director Laddie Elwell wanted -- $13 million toward the $26 million construction tab - but it'll do. The...

Headwaters Science Center Executive Director Laddie Elwell, left, presents the case for public works bonding for a new Science Center late last month to the Senate Economic Development and Housing Budget Division, to which Sen. Mary Olson, center, DFL-Bemidji, is a member. At right is Science Center Board member Roger Davis. Minnesota State Senate Photo

The Headwaters Science Center got its foot in the door as both House and Senate bonding bills provide planning funds.

It's not what Executive Director Laddie Elwell wanted -- $13 million toward the $26 million construction tab - but it'll do.

The $475,000 in planning and design funds will help update the center's prior 2000 plans, and put in line for hard construction dollars in 2012.

Both House and Senate bills released Thursday include a portion of the requested funding for Red Lake schools projects and the bills split on funding for the Paul Bunyan Trail bridge and on Bemidji State University's business expansion.

"The decision was made, since there didn't seem to be the likelihood that the actual building money of $13 million would be available this year given the size of the bonding bill, ... to ask for $475,000 to build on the pre-design work that was already done about 10 years ago," Sen. Mary Olson, DFL-Bemidji, said in a recent interview about the Science Center.


The new work will also provide more specific drawings which could lead to bid documents, she said. "The idea then would be to try to get the balance of the building money for construction in 2012."

That would be perfect for Bemidji economic development, Olson said, as the Bemidji Regional Event Center will be completed and the Science Center could be the next big building project.

"This would be the next large project for our area that would help to support those jobs in our area," Olson said. "And also, the next large public building as part of the whole south shore-southern Bemidji-downtown development."

The Science Center serves all of northern Minnesota, Elwell told Senate and House bonding committees. Most school districts have a relationship with the center.

"It truly is something beyond just regional, it's actually serving the whole northern half of our state," Olson said.

The new Science Center would be built along the Mississippi River between Lakes Bemidji and Irving.

Funding was not included in Gov. Tim Pawlenty's bonding bill.

The Red Lake School District requested $34.98 million for its ongoing projects to upgrade its high school and middle school, and for early childhood facilities. Not included in the governor's bill, both the House and Senate would provide $5.78 million.


Bemidji State's $3.425 million request for planning and design funds for its $21 million new business facilities won favor only with the House. The Senate and Pawlenty passed on the funds.

The project would be phased in three bonding cycles and includes moving current Deckher Hall business facilities to Hobson Union, with a renovation of that building to include moving Student Life functions into a renovated Memorial Hall.

BSU and Northwest Technical College will also share in $4.8 million to the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system for a science, technology, engineering and math initiative. The funding is not in Pawlenty's bill but in both House and Senate bills.

Neither the House nor the governor's bill include funding for MnSCU property acquisition. The Senate bill does include $2 million. BSU has been seeking $2 million for several bonding cycles to repay the BSU Foundation for its purchase of the old Bemidji High School.

The Senate bill includes $1.8 million for a Paul Bunyan Trail bridge over Paul Bunyan Drive in south Bemidji, more than the $1 million the city requested. The House and governor, however, included nothing.

The Senate also set aside $500,000 and the House $1.4 million for a trail connector from Shingobee to Walker.

"I'm very pleased these projects were selected from a significant list of competitors," Rep. John Persell, DFL-Bemidji, said in a statement. "While I know there is a long process ahead of us, including reconciling our bill with the Senate and the governor, I remain hopeful they will still be included when the final bill is passed."

Persell said the sooner a bill can be agreed upon and passed, the sooner bids can be let and the work can be started.


"We know right now the bonding rate is good and bids are coming in as much as 30 percent lower than anticipated," said Persell. "This is a good time to make these investments in state assets and put people back to work."

Not included in any bonding bill is Beltrami County's request of $1.99 million toward its $4 million jail efficiency project. The project to upgrade the 23-year-old jail was heard by several legislative committees last month, however.

While no bonding was set aside for a Minnesota veterans home for when a site is selected, the House did include $5.5 million to construct a veterans home in Willmar.

Both House and Senate bills are expected to pass their chambers next week, and then head to conference committee.

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