Minnesota House bonding committee hears pitches for Willmar area projects

The Minnesota House Capital Investment Committee visited Willmar on Tuesday to gather information about three local projects requesting funds from the biannual bonding bill. Willmar Municipal Utilities, Kandiyohi County Public Works and the Southwest West Central Service Cooperative presented in front of the visiting legislators about the projects.

Kandiyohi County is hoping the state will fund $3.9 million, or half the project cost, of the CSAH 55 Highway-Rail Grade Separation project south of Willmar. Mel Odens, Kandiyohi County Public Works Director and county engineer, presents on the project in front of the Minnesota House Capital Investment Committee, who was in Willmar on Tuesday. Shelby Lindrud / West Central Tribune
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WILLMAR — State representatives serving on the Minnesota House Capital Investment Committee stopped briefly in Willmar on Tuesday to learn about three local projects requesting state funding from the upcoming capital budget , or bonding bill.

District 17B Rep. Dave Baker , R-Willmar, welcomed the group at the MinnWest Technology Campus . Prior to the presentations the group toured the Southwest West Central Service Cooperative Willmar Educational Learning Center.

Cliff Carmody, Southwest West Central Service Cooperative executive director, speaks Tuesday to members of the Minnesota House Capital Investment Committee about the proposed expansion project for the cooperative's Willmar Educational Learning Center. Shelby Lindrud / West Central Tribune

Cliff Carmody, executive director of the cooperative, spoke on the expansion project for the Willmar center, which is located on the MinnWest campus. The center provides educational services for special education students. Currently, 31 students are enrolled in the programs offered at the center, pretty much the maximum the facility can hold.


'It is full because we have no more room," Carmody said.

The expansion project, a partnership between the Southwest West Central Service Cooperative and Willmar Public Schools , includes a new learning center facility constructed adjacent to the Willmar Middle School on Willmar Avenue Southeast. It would replace the current facility and could expand the program's reach to 45 to 55 students. The Educational Learning Center and Willmar Public Schools would share food services and gym space, Carmody said. The school district will be providing land for the project.

"Everything we've done has been collaborative," Carmody said.

Concept art for the proposed Willmar Educational Learning Center at the Willmar Middle School. Contributed / Southwest West Central Service Cooperative

The total cost of the project is estimated at $15 million with hopes of $5.5 million coming from the bonding bill to build the learning center.

"We have no way to finance that, no way to fund that without looking at bonding money from the state," Carmody said.

John Harren, general manager for Willmar Municipal Utilities , presented information to the committee on the $21.1 million Northeast Water Treatment Plant Improvements. Willmar Municipal Utilities is requesting $16.9 million from the bonding bill, 80 percent of the total project, while the utilities will pay $4.9 million.


"It is all about clean water, economic development and jobs," Harren said.

The proposed project would use a biological filter process to remove manganese, iron, ammonia and chlorinated disinfectant by-products from the city's water. The manganese in the city's water is twice the level of secondary standards and can impact brain development in children. In addition the project will increase Willmar's water capacity, allowing for more growth in the city.

Willmar Municipal Utilities General Manager John Harren shares information Tuesday on the $21 million improvement project at the Northeast Water Treatment Plant. Willmar Municipal Utilities is requesting more than $16 million in state bonding funding to help pay for the project. Shelby Lindrud / West Central Tribune

Willmar Municipal Utilities has been planning for this project for over a decade . In the past years, water service rates have increased 85% to help pay for the project and if the bonding funds fall through, rates will need to increase even more. Willmar has the fourth-highest wastewater rates in the state, Harren said.

"We will need to continue, without state funding, about another 25 or 30% to fund this project," Harren said. "We are really hoping there is going to be some assistance we can count on from the state."

The final presentation to the committee Tuesday was from Mel Odens, Kandiyohi County Public Works director and engineer, who spoke on the County Road 55 Highway-Rail Grade separation project. The project would re-establish the road network at the intersection of Minnesota Highway 23 and Kandiyohi County Roads 5/15 and 55. The county roads are part of the County-State Aid Highway system.

"It is a very busy corridor, a major corridor," Odens said.


Kandiyohi County is requesting $3.9 million in bonding to complete the project, with the county paying the other half of the $7.8 million total cost. The county's share is being funded through a local option sales tax that was passed by the Kandiyohi County Board in 2017 and runs through 2022.

"They went out on a limb," Odens said, passing the tax to help fund this and other transit projects in the county.

When completed the Kandiyohi County Road 55 Highway-Rail Grade Separation project will create a more effective and safer interchange. Contributed / Kandiyohi County

The Minnesota Department of Transportation will be completing the construction of the four highway exit and entrance ramps at the interchange in 2023. The county plans to construct a new bridge over two BNSF Railway tracks, including the future Willmar Wye track, in addition to the reconstruction and construction of one mile of roadway to reconnect all the routes at the intersection in a more effective and safe design for all traffic.

"When we are all done, we will have an effective western bypass, it will provide a good truck route," Odens said. "It will improve safety and it is what you would expect when you come to an interchange."

Minnesota Representative Dave Baker of District 17B, welcomed the House Capital Investment Committee to Willmar on Tuesday. The group was gathering information on three Willmar projects requesting state funding in the 2022 capital budget, also known as the bonding bill. Shelby Lindrud / West Central Tribune

The tour of the House committee is only one of many steps involved before the governor signs a completed bonding bill next spring. The Senate committee will eventually hear its own presentations on the projects, and in January, Gov. Tim Walz will present his 2022 capital budget to the Legislature. Through the spring session, the House and Senate will debate and construct the capital budget with the hope to achieve successful approval by the end of the session in May.

"What you do here is greatly appreciated," Baker told the committee. "Thanks for making the time to come out."

Shelby Lindrud is a reporter with the West Central Tribune of Willmar. Her focus areas are arts and entertainment, agriculture, features writing and the Kandiyohi County Board.

She can be reached via email or direct 320-214-4373.

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