Veterans Memorial Bridge

Replacing the deck of the Veterans Memorial Bridge is one of the largest among a long list of more than $130 million in projects included in the city of Mankato's five-year Community Investment Plan.

MANKATO — In the next five years, the city of Mankato is looking to do more than $60 million in street projects, build a control tower at the regional airport, replace the deck on a Minnesota River bridge, purchase a $700,000 firetruck and make needed repairs to dozens of municipal buildings.

The Community Investment Plan set to be approved by the City Council Monday prioritizes construction, major maintenance and large equipment purchases for 2023 to 2027. Many of the projects won’t ever be noticed by most Mankatoans, such as the planned painting of the firetruck bay at Fire Station No. 3 ($75,000 in 2025) or the purchase of new welding equipment at the Public Works Center ($25,000 in 2027).

Some items have an obvious and direct impact on the life and health of residents. Between 2024 and 2025, $70,000 is set aside to replace 57 older automated external defibrillators scattered around city properties and in emergency vehicles to ensure they work properly when someone is having a heart attack. Over five years, $205,000 is targeted at purchasing new membranes for filtering the city’s drinking water. In 2024, $2.1 million is slated for a roundabout at the crash-prone intersection of Highway 22 and Augusta Drive.

Other projects are about quality of life. In 2026 and 2027, more than $1.5 million is to be spent for railroad crossing improvements at Third Avenue and Owatonna Street to create long-sought whistle-free zones for locomotive-plagued residential neighborhoods. And smoother pavement is coming to aging portions of Riverfront Drive, Fourth Street, Pfau Street and multiple residential streets across Mankato.

Adding up to more than $130 million in spending, it’s more than a wish list. Because a funding source is in place for each of the projects, the vast majority will be accomplished, said Parker Skophammer, administrative services director for the city.

“We’ve been really intentional in terms of setting aside the appropriate amount of funds, identifying projects ... spacing those out so we have a life cycle,” Skophammer said.

A portion of revenue from taxes and other sources is set aside in each year’s operating budget in the city’s various departments and placed in special accounts to finance those larger purchases of equipment, major maintenance and new construction. As a result, enough money is saved up to pay cash for the big-ticket items, to have matching funds on hand if federal or state grants become available, or to make payments on bonds when borrowing is necessary.

The concept has been a priority of city leaders in the past dozen years or more, perhaps even more so under the administration of City Manager Susan Arntz.

“It’s a credit to the council and certainly Susan in pushing an emphasis on taking care of what we have and planning for the future,” Skophammer said.

Nearly half of the Community Investment Plan — $63.25 million — is aimed at street projects, led by $15.25 million in 2025 for the redecking of the Veterans Memorial Bridge and $8 million in 2024 to completely reconstruct Riverfront Drive between Main and Lafayette streets.

Airport spending is the only other eight-figure category in the plan. More than $17.2 million is to be spent at the Mankato Regional Airport with the facility’s first air traffic control tower to be built at a cost of $5.8 million, a runway reconstruction and realignment topping $8 million and the construction of a wildlife fence and perimeter road at $3 million.

In the case of the airport, only about 10% of the project expenses are to be paid with local revenue. The rest will come from via grants from the Federal Aviation Administration.

Virtually all of the rest of the capital budget is funded with various local sources including property taxes, sales taxes, special assessments, revenue from utility fees and the city’s share of state gas tax proceeds.

The five-year plan is revised every year and approved by the council each December with another slate of projects joining as the new fifth year of the schedule. A few projects typically are moved up or back in the plan as priorities shift.

And the Community Investment Plan also lists “illustrative” projects — a sort of warning to city leaders and residents of looming projects that will need to be done in coming years even if they didn’t make the cut for the current five-year plan.

“We’re thinking about that, we’ve identified it (as a need), we don’t have a funding strategy for it yet,” Skophammer said in describing the typical illustrative project.

That category totals more than $17.2 million in the new CIP and is led by $6.5 million for a variety of impending repairs for park buildings and at the Public Works Center, along with $3.99 million at the civic center complex for replacing equipment ranging from freezers to boilers.

Along with striving to set aside funding for future projects, the city is working harder to track the age and expected useful life of equipment and infrastructure.

“And getting ahead so we don’t have surprises — or minimizing those,” he said. “I think we’ve made a lot of strides.”

Some of the most visible work coming up next year includes the complete reconstruction of Fourth Street from Walnut to Mulberry ($1.13 million), the third phase of a multi-year effort to modernize streets and utilities in the Germania Park neighborhood ($3.37 million), reconstruction of Pfau Street between Main and Fair ($1.37 million) and restoration of the stained glass in the historic Ellerbe Building in the civic center complex ($361,000).

The 108 projects for 2023 actually represent a smaller slate than other recent years. That’s purposeful as the city tries to get caught up after a challenging 2022 when several projects failed to be completed because of supply chain issues and materials shortages.

There’s also the potential for a very large addition to the city’s to-do list: a major modernization of the wastewater treatment plant if the state Legislature approves funding to cover up to half the cost. That project, which could top $60 million, wasn’t included in the five-year plan because there’s no solid funding identified.

The plan — along with the city’s 2023 operating budget, property tax levy and fee schedule — is expected to be approved following a presentation and public hearing 6 p.m. Monday at the Intergovernmental Center.

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