Riverland waiting for bonding bill verdict

Published 10:58 am Thursday, March 22, 2012

Riverland Community College officials could find themselves stuck footing needed capital projects depending on the state Legislature’s bonding bill decisions.

The House GOP Bonding Bill released Tuesday would give $280 million to capital projects throughout the state, including various Minnesota State Colleges and Universities upkeep projects like fixing roofs and replacing heating, venting and air conditioning units. Riverland officials hope they’ll get part of that money to fix and replace much-needed HVAC components and roofing at the Austin and Albert Lea campus.

“$280 million is disappointing,” MnSCU Chancellor Steven Rosenstone told the MnSCU Board of Trustees Thursday. “It is very low given both the needs of our system and the work we have to do.”

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Gov. Mark Dayton proposed a $755 million bonding bill earlier this month to address key projects like The Hormel Institute’s upcoming expansion. Both the GOP and Dayton allocated $20 million to the Higher Education Asset Preservation and Replacement (HEAPR) fund, which MnSCU officials distribute to colleges and universities based on building project needs and seniority. That’s $10 million less than the $30 million HEAPR received in 2011.

Riverland usually has between eight and 15 projects up for HEAPR funding each year. With ever-decreasing higher education funding, college officials are watching the ensuing bonding bill fight with interest and praying they won’t have to replace broken-down building necessities during the semester.

“We know it’s still early,” Riverland President Terry Leas said about the legislature’s bonding bill debate. Leas said each building is worth plenty of taxpayer money and Riverland officials are trying to keep the school running in good condition.

“What we want to do is preserve that investment,” he said.

The problem with Riverland’s Austin and Albert Lea buildings are their age. Both campuses have been around since the late 1960s and early 1970s, which means needed repairs are coming up at the same time.

Riverland hoped to fund a series of changes to its Albert Lea campus outside of HEAPR funding, but the project didn’t appear on either bonding bill proposal this year. College officials wanted to remodel Albert Lea’s large lecture hall into two classrooms that can open into one, a 4,300 square-foot space recently leased out to the Workforce Development Center and demolish a 8,000 square-foot standalone space set between the campus’s two main buildings. The standalone building is in need of about $700,000 in deferred repairs, including HVAC, roof, and surrounding blacktop maintenance including sidewalks and the parking lot.

“It doesn’t pay to fix it at this time,” said Judy Enright, Riverland’s physical plant manager.

The Albert Lea proposal, which costs about $3.3 million with $1.9 million coming from HEAPR funding, would also help replace some of the building’s HVAC, and roofing. College officials would also outfit the entire campus with sprinklers.

Riverland hopes to get money to replace two rooftop HVAC units on the Austin West campus building, which affects public television station KSMQ and Riverland’s Law Enforcement Center and Radiology programs. Enright is concerned about the rooftop HVACs breaking down because of their age. She hoped to replace the “ancient” units with indoor HVAC components that would help Riverland transfer to hot water heating, which uses less energy.

“If this fails, we’re going to have a portion of our building we’ll have trouble using,” she said.

There’s no word on when legislators will decide bonding bill funding. The legislative session is expected to end in three to five weeks.