WORTHINGTON — During a visit to Minnesota West Community and Technical College, the House Capital Investment Committee saw several presentations regarding projects requesting state funding. This visit was one of over 20 made in the region during the committee’s southwest Minnesota bonding tour, as they reviewed sites of proposed investment before the next legislative session.

After a tour of Minnesota West’s facilities, legislators watched a series of presentations, including a proposal for design funding for the college and several water infrastructure projects in the region.

Minnesota West design proposal

Minnesota West has requested $1.9 million from the state, which will go toward designs for the construction and renovation of spaces at the Worthington and Granite Falls campuses. If granted, the funds will be used to upgrade learning spaces for the nursing program at both campuses, as well as the peace officer education program in Worthington.

Updates to the nursing program are based on the Pipestone campus “classatory” model, which combines hands-on lab work with classroom learning in the same space. It will also give Minnesota West the ability to better accommodate one of their largest programs which in turn, the college hopes will help replenish the health care workforce.

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Minnesota west President Terry Gaalswyk goes over a bonding proposal during a  bonding committee event at the MN West campus Wednesday afternoon.  Tim Middagh / The Globe
Minnesota west President Terry Gaalswyk goes over a bonding proposal during a bonding committee event at the MN West campus Wednesday afternoon. Tim Middagh / The Globe

“The pandemic has brought into greater focus the fragile condition of our health care system in southwest Minnesota,” said College President Terry Gaalswyk. “Our request provides an experience with students in Worthington and Granite Falls that is similar to the experience they receive in Pipestone and we cannot do it without the assistance of our state.”

Additionally, at the Worthington campus, Minnesota West hopes to make similar upgrades to its peace officer education program by creating designated space for students to learn. The program is in its 15th year and has about 35 students who currently use temporary space and small classrooms at the college.

Representatives from the city of Wilder go over a bonding proposal at a  bonding committee event at the MN West campus Wednesday afternoon.  Tim Middagh / The Globe
Representatives from the city of Wilder go over a bonding proposal at a bonding committee event at the MN West campus Wednesday afternoon. Tim Middagh / The Globe

Plans to reorient the campus in Granite Falls are also included in the funding request. Currently, the college’s front entrance faces private residences, with U.S. 212 to the south.

“The orientation of the campus is just off,” Gaalswyk said. “You drive past this wonderful facility and it really does not speak to you about the college operation that exists at the facility.”

Should design plans move forward, Minnesota West would need an additional $31.5 million for construction, which the college hopes to have underway by 2024.

Windom water infrastructure

The city of Windom presented their request to the committee for state bonding related to the installation of a larger storm sewer system to mitigate flooding in a residential neighborhood.

The project, located within Red Leaf Court, has seen frequent flooding in the last 30 years. Developed prior to being included within the city limits, the street is part of a drainage area that receives water from approximately 422 acres of partially tiled agriculture property, which contributes the majority of the water entering into the city’s storm water system in this area, which it is unequipped to handle.

The proposed solution is to install a new 54-inch storm sewer line to move water through a culvert under the adjacent road, and drain into land next to the Des Moines River.

The total estimated cost of the project will amount to $821,000. The city is requesting $436,000 in bonding funds.

Wilder sewer system regionalization

The city of Wilder is requesting funding to combat their current failing septic system by regionalizing with Windom. The request for $4.2 million would cover design, engineering and construction of the gravity sewer system that would take wastewater from Wilder to Windom, where the wastewater would be treated. Windom’s water treatment facility currently serves several other locations.

Design and funding for this project could take place in 2022, with construction and wrap-up completed by 2024. While presenters acknowledged that the cost of this project is high, the regionalization approach allows for Wilder to grow in the future, and the infrastructure can be upgraded at small costs over time as needed.

Lakefield infrastructure improvement project

The city of Lakefield’s bonding request deals with a series of projects related to water and road infrastructure.

Lakefield’s wastewater permit through the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency includes a compliance schedule, the constraints of which the city currently faces. The first requirement is the addition of a reverse osmosis system, which will remove water softeners and chlorides from the wastewater stream. The second project concerns improvements to the wastewater treatment facility in order to update the aging infrastructure and better remove contaminants from the wastewater. Funding will also go toward some consumer maintenance service replacements throughout town to eliminate significant inflow and infiltration from the sanitary sewer system.

“Far more than what is on this [presentation] needs to be done,” said Brian Rossow, city clerk, during his presentation to the capital investment committee. “We had to pick the worst ones to start with, because it was just not affordable to do all of the repairs that need to be done.”

Additionally, the city of Lakefield is seeking funds for the complete reconstruction of Minnesota 86, including sewer trunk and service replacements, which Rossow called a “daunting task.”

“It's pretty scary for the community because that's our main lifeline in and out of town for our residents,” said Rossow.

The current estimate for the Minnesota 86 project has increased from $1.15 million in March to a recent updated estimate of $1.77 million in October. Rossow stated that if trends continue, the bids for that are likely going to be even higher.

The original total project estimate was about $14 million, of which Lakefield asked for a 50% match from the state, for a bonding request of $7 million. Bids on the other projects are also expected to be higher than initially projected. Current project costs are a little over $20 million, with additional funding in the form of loans and grants.

“So why fund this project?” Rossow asked of the committee. “First of all, we’re out of time.”

This project has been underway for the past five years in Lakefield, which is facing a compliance date of 2023 for their wastewater permit. Rossow also cites environmental concerns and lack of affordability for the current community in Lakefield as reasons for the state to invest in their infrastructure improvement project.

“We've been fortunate to see population growth over the last census period, but that won't be sustained,” said Rossow. “We'll see decline if we have to increase taxes and utility rates to run an increasing cost project.”

Lakefield currently sits at number two on the project priority list, just behind Aurora, after being number one for several years.

Reading sanitary sewer project

Nobles County has made a request for $3 million on behalf of the unincorporated Reading community. Reading was given notice of violation from the MPCA several years ago for being an un-sewered town, meaning any sewage they produce currently goes untreated.

Several possible solutions have been explored, including regionalization and a pond system, but after input from the residents of Reading, the county has made the decision to request funds for a series of cluster systems. This plan will consist of grouping between four and six homes on the same septic system, with the option for homeowners with the available property to have their own. The requested $3 million will cover both design and construction costs.

Third tour of five

This bonding tour is the third of five to take place in the state of Minnesota, with the southeast region and Twin Cities metro area slated to take place in the following weeks.

Committee Chair Rep. Fu Lee, D-Minneapolis, stated that the committee has received over $5 billion worth of requests from the state and local units of government, with requests for funding for water infrastructure projects emerging as a common theme throughout the state. They have also heard presentations on a large range of community development projects.

“We're doing our due diligence to come out here and hear from the local folks so that when we go back to the capital in January we can make sure we are getting a full view of the need,” said Lee before departing to the next stop on the tour.