By Dan Linehan
Free Press Staff Writer
— Gov. Mark Dayton’s proposal to borrow $750 million for construction projects includes, as expected, $14.5 million to expand Mankato’s Verizon Wireless Center.
Much less trumpeted, though, is his request for $51.1 million in renovations to the Regional Treatment Center in St. Peter.
The improvements would make the Minnesota Security Hospital safer, said Chuck Carlson, president of the AFSCME Local 404.
The facility’s blind corners and compartmentalized layout make it easier to assault someone in private and difficult to see someone who needs help. The renovations would open up the floor plan to remove those hard-to-see spots.
Violence continues to be a problem in Security Hospital, the home of people committed by the courts as mentally ill and dangerous.
There were 93 staff injuries reported to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration last year and 434 assaults.
“This is the worst year on record,” Carlson said.
Another problem with the layout is the lack of space.
Right now, new additions to the hospital are put on the crisis unit, where the worst patients are put.
“When you bring in people who’re behaviorally out of control and mix in new admissions ... it’s bound to cause problems,” Carlson said.
The governor also included the renovation request (for $40 million) in his 2012 bonding proposal. The 2011 bonding bill included $7 million in renovations at Security Hospital.
Rep. Clark Johnson, DFL-North Mankato, learned about the issue during the campaign earlier this year and quickly became an advocate for the renovations.
“To me, it became very much an ethical issue,” he said. “We ask these people to live under challenging circumstances ... and we don’t provide the safest facility that we can. That seems wrong.”
The governor also proposed spending $1.25 million to help the city of Truman design and build new rain water pipes to help two areas of the city that are flooded during heavy rains.
Civic center hurdles coming
The governor has long supported Mankato’s civic center request; the next test for the proposal will come when the House releases its proposal Tuesday morning.
The House recently asked the city to resubmit its jobs figures for the project, Mankato City Manager Pat Hentges said. He said the project is estimated to create the equivalent of 10 full-time employees on the site and 100 full-time employees in the area around the site.
Senate leaders have been the most hesitant about a larger bonding bill, Hentges said.
And because a bonding bill requires a 60 percent majority to pass, the Democrats will need Republican votes.
House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt told The Associated Press that Republicans want to keep the focus on the budget for now.
“At this point we don’t think it’s appropriate to talk about borrowing money before we know where we are going to spend our money,” Daudt said.
Waiting to pass a bonding bill also gives the Republicans more leverage to influence budget talks. This is because, again, the Democrats will know they still need Republican votes for a bonding deal.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.