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Prairie Lakes, CABHS in Willmar request state bonding funds in quest to offer better services to children

House Capital Investment Committee hears from Ridgewater College, Child and Adolescent Behavioral Health Services, Prairie Lakes Youth Programs and Kandiyohi County on bonding request tour

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House Capital Investment Committee members and Prairie Lakes Youth Programs staff members speak about the recreation area Tuesday at the Prairie Lakes Youth Program building in Willmar. Prairie Lakes is proposing projects for upgraded classrooms and a recreation area. Erica Dischino / West Central Tribune

WILLMAR — Both Child and Adolescent Behavioral Health Services and Prairie Lakes Youth Programs assist youth in need of help, whether for mental health treatment or leading them back to the right path following a criminal case. If their state bonding requests are approved next year by the Legislature and Gov. Tim Walz, the two organizations hope to improve and expand on the services and opportunities they offer the youth in their care.

Members of the House Capital Investment Committee came to Willmar on Tuesday to hear presentations from Child and Adolescent Behavioral Health Services and Prairie Lakes Youth Programs. Also making bonding requests to the committee were Ridgewater College and Kandiyohi County.

"These are very important things," Rep. Dave Baker said. Baker represents Willmar and most of Kandiyohi County, and acted as host to the committee as it learned about the possible projects.

Prairie Lakes Youth Programs — a juvenile detention center owned and operated by the counties of Chippewa, Kandiyohi, Lac qui Parle, Swift, and Yellow Medicine — is requesting $1,058,000 to add a new gym and classroom building to its location on the MinnWest Technology Campus. The facility offers secure and non-secure programming, including schooling through Willmar Public Schools, for juvenile offenders.

Since it was established in 1991, Prairie Lakes has seen thousands of youth go through its programs and has had to work around the shortfalls of the buildings while providing the best services it can.

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"We have made do with what we have," said executive director Darin Balken.

This includes never having an indoor gym space — the only juvenile detention center in the state not to have one, Balken said. The current classrooms are also small and out of date and are not made for 21st century education needs.

The new addition would add several classrooms and offices along with a large gym space. It would be located between the two buildings in use now, connecting them all together.

"Give these kids a chance for educational hope," said Prairie Lakes teacher Darrin Anderson. "We need better space to help the education of these students. That is our mission, to provide them with the strongest and best tool in the world, and that is a good education. We want to stand there for our students."

Child and Adolescent Behavioral Health Services, part of the state Department of Human Services, provides inpatient mental health treatment and services to those youth in most need of such help.

A new, state-of-the art, 16-bed facility is under construction on Civic Center Drive. The agency is requesting $1,750,000 in bonding to add a large motor activity and ancillary space to the new hospital.

In 2017, the state approved over $7 million in bonding to fund the construction of the new psychiatric hospital. However, the facility now under construction does not include a space for regular playtime as well as rehabilitative recreational services.

"It was clearly an oversight of (the Department of Human Services)," Baker said.

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The extra play space will meld nicely with the outdoor play spaces in the design, which will included a playground. Building the recreation space will make sure the new hospital is able to meet the needs of those children admitted there.

"We want to finish it right for the kids," Baker said. "This is important stuff."

The other bonding requests heard by the committee during the tour Tuesday came from Kandiyohi County and Ridgewater College.

Kandiyohi County is looking for $3.9 million — half the cost of building a bridge over two BNSF railroad tracks, including the future Willmar Wye bypass track, near the intersection of County Road 55, County Road 5/15 and state Highway 23. The project also includes roadwork that would create an intersection that is safer and easier to navigate for traffic. See related story here .

Kandiyohi County will be providing the second half of the funding with revenue being raised by the local option sales tax the County Board approved in 2017. The total project is estimated to cost $7.8 million.

"What we are trying to solve is something we feel very strongly needs to be corrected, for efficient movement of product and the least driver confusion," said Mel Odens, Kandiyohi County public works director.

Ridgewater is requesting the state approve Minnesota State's Asset Preservation and Replacement request of $150 million. This fund is used by all of the 54 campuses in the Minnesota State college system, including Ridgewater. The local community and technical college has roofs that are in need of repair and the Higher Education Asset Preservation and Replacement fund provides much needed money for those types of projects.

"That HEAPR is so critical for Minnesota State," said Dan Holtz, vice president of finance and operations at Ridgewater. "Think of us during the bonding. These things are basic, but they keep the lights on and our students safe."

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Kandiyohi County isn't the only county the House committee has visited this fall, and Baker said at least two tours in different regions of the state were scheduled to hear even more bonding presentations.

Once the legislative session opens in February, the bonding bill will be one of the top pieces of legislation. The hope is the House and Senate will be able to agree on a bonding bill by the end of the session in May, and that Walz will sign it. There wasn't a bonding bill last year, so Baker expects the 2020 bill to be larger than normal.

Baker said in the past the bonding bill has become a political football between the two parties, but he hopes projects like those at Prairie Lakes and the Child and Adolescent Behavioral Health Services hospital in Willmar will be able to bridge the partisan divide.

"When it comes to education and kids, we are all pretty much on the same page for kids," Baker said.

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 slindrud@wctrib.com or direct 320-214-4373.


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