Lawmakers tour Riverland College campus in Albert Lea; State funding request would move a truck program out of  Austin

Published 7:48 am Friday, September 1, 2017

Albert Lea Tribune

Lawmakers toured Riverland Community College’s Albert Lea campus to learn more about a $10.1 million project that includes relocating some programs from Austin to Albert Lea. These lawmakers who will play a key role in state project funding decisions in the next legislative sessions made no commitments.

The visit came after District 27A Rep. Peggy Bennett, R-Albert Lea, invited members of the House Capital Investment Committee to visit Riverland Community College to learn more about the project and their potential local impacts.

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College officials are requesting $10.1 million in bonding to renovate outdated space, to relocate truck driving and collision programs from Austin to Albert Lea and to integrate the programs into shared spaces with auto service and diesel programs.

District 66A Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, said Riverland representatives presented a “powerful” message, and she called the tour “very encouraging” and the students and instructors “impressive.”

“The idea is, as quickly as possible, to get people trained to the very specific needs of the local area, and we just heard that over and over,” she said.

Riverland Community College President Adenuga Atewologun said the visit connects the issue to the need to recruit students to the  technical  career programs. Those programs  will prepare them for industries that improve the economic vitality of the region. A new, modern facility will also attract  students to the college.

“Hopefully this is going to pan out to funding,” he said.

Atewologun thanked Bennett and District 27B Rep. Jeanne Poppe, DFL-Austin, for supporting the college’s bonding request. Both lawmakers attended the tour of the facility.

After touring Riverland, lawmakers visited Blazing Star Trail, and local representatives urged them to fund the construction of a bridge across Albert Lea Lake to connect Blazing Star Trail from Albert Lea to Hayward. The Legislature first authorized the existence of the trail in 1996, but not enough funding has been secured to connect the trail over the lake.

The trail is eventually planned to extend to Austin to connect with Shooting Star Trail and Root River Trail.

DNR Regional Supervisor Joel Wagar said the DNR will partner with the city of Albert Lea and Freeborn County through the process of completing the trail.

District 45A Rep. Lyndon Carlson Sr., DFL-Crystal, called the tours “very informative.”

Carlson, who is in his 23rd term in office and is the longest-serving legislator in state history, said Riverland presented an “excellent argument” for funding, and the most important message from the tour was the impact remodeling the space at the college would have on the community’s workforce shortage, he said.

Bennett said she invited legislators to visit Albert Lea so they could see “the wonderful projects that we need to get finished.”

“It’s been one of my goals to get that through, because it’s important to our area,” Bennett said. “For Riverland to get those trades — as they talked about — consolidated and better used, more efficient, better for students, is something we need for our industries around here greatly.”

Students have left Riverland because of modern auto mechanic equipment in other locations, Bennett said.

Blazing Star Trail work needs to be completed after local and state entities funded the trail, she said, noting she is “hopeful” the two projects will be included in next year’s bonding bill.