By Mark Fischenich
---- — MANKATO — A new Mankato transit facility — in the planning and money-acquiring phase for nearly five years — should be under construction next year with completion expected in 2015.
The $6.5 million project will be constructed on the north side of the city's public works complex in the former Minnesota Department of Transportation regional headquarters at the intersection of Hoffman Road and Victory Drive.
Mankato officials would have preferred that the timetable for the new transit facility be two years farther along because the city recently turned over its existing downtown bus garage to the Children's Museum of Southern Minnesota. About $4 million has been raised to transform the aged brick building on Lamm Street near Cub Foods West into a high-quality museum, and the impressive fundraising and ambitious vision of museum organizers persuaded the City Council to lease the building to them for 50 years at $1 per year.
With plans long in place to have transit operations join other Public Works Department operations in the former MnDOT building, the old bus shed was going to be vacant anyway. But with the museum anxious to get renovating and hoping for a 2014 grand opening, city buses and transit offices have been shifted to another vacated public works building across Lamm Street.
It's not an ideal structure for buses, according to Mankato City Manager Pat Hentges.
"We've actually moved everything out of there into the old public works building, and the public works building is not really designed for that," said Hentges, who said it will be made to work until the new facility is completed.
The council agreed Monday night to hire Oertel Architects at $537,000 to design the new transit facility, which will be financed with $5.2 million in state and federal funds plus a $1.3 million local match.
The facility will include maintenance and bus-washing facilities, offices and space for dispatch operations. And it may become something of a regional transit hub. The city is in discussions with Jefferson Lines/Mankato Land to Air — which provides daily service to the Twin Cities and Rochester and connections via other bus companies to destinations throughout North America — to lease space at the new facility.
There's also a possibility of another state appropriation next year that would make the facility a hub for regional rural transit systems throughout south-central Minnesota, Hentges said.