ST. PAUL – The Minnesota House of Representatives’ Capital Investment Package, announced April 4, includes state bonding dollars for the Prairie Wetlands Environmental Learning Center in Fergus Falls and for the Fergus Falls Veterans Home.
“After years of lobbying for the Legislature to see the necessity of these two projects, I’m happy to see they’re included in the bonding package,” said State Rep. Bud Nornes, who authored legislation in support of both projects.
One of the key projects Nornes drafted legislation (HF3103) for was a designation of $7.7 million for improvements at the Fergus Falls Veterans Home, 1821 N. Park St. The House Capital Investment Committee recommended an allocation of $637,000.
Although the allocation is not the full amount he requested, Nornes said making the list is an important first step. “Once a project gets some initial funding, the state traditionally continues that funding through its completion,” he added.
The project would provide an additional 21 special care beds; it would improve clinical space for No. 1 diagnosis; it would improve patient physical environments; and meet the demand for services, particularly the needs of its Alzheimer and dementia residents who comprise nearly 59 percent of its population. The project qualifies for the State Home Construction Grant program administered by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, so the VA will pay or reimburse about 65 percent of the project’s cost.
Another key project in Fergus Falls is the Prairie Wetlands Center, 602 State Highway 210 E. The Nornes-authored bill (HF0278) requested $2.5 million, and is recommended to get $2 million.
The appropriation, done through the issuance of state bonds, would be for a grant to the city of Fergus Falls in order to design, construct, furnish and equip the expansion of the center.
“The environment is one our most precious resources,” Nornes said. “This facility serves as an important educational tool to highlight the need to preserve natural prairies and wetlands, and has been a success.”
The center includes 325 acres of native and restored prairie, 28 wetlands and 4.5 miles of trails. The Visitor Center houses a 2,500 square foot exhibit area, the Bluestem Store, classrooms and the Great Hall - a multi-purpose meeting room. The center provides both day and residential environmental education and interpretation of the prairie pothole region for learners of all ages.
It is the first residential environmental education center operated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and focuses on the understanding of prairies and wetlands. The Center is part of the Fergus Falls Wetland Management District, and is a cooperative venture between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the city of Fergus Falls and the State of Minnesota.
The Capital Investment Package also appropriates funds to the Minnesota State Community and Technical College in Fergus Falls for roof replacement, installation of ADA-compliant features and other improvements.
The House proposal is $949 million in general obligation bonds, with a total of $999 million when user-financed bonds, trunk highway bonds, and cash amounts are included.
The House bonding bill is $138 million more in general obligation than Gov. Pawlenty’s proposal and $40.6 million less in general obligation bonds than what was proposed by the Minnesota Senate. The House bill distributes approximately one-third of its funding to Greater Minnesota, one-third to the seven-county metropolitan area and one-third to statewide initiatives.
The House is tentatively scheduled to vote on the bonding bill on Wednesday, April 12.