I would like to take this opportunity to thank our supporters and regional legislators for their bipartisan work during this last legislative session. Some great things were done for this region that includes two Central Lakes College capital projects.
The college had two major capital projects under consideration in the bonding bill by the Legislature that were critical to the college. A $2 million project to replace the library roof on the Brainerd campus was at the top of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities list for asset preservation. A portion of the book collection sustained water damage during a major downpour two years ago.
The second project was the renovation of the Staples campus for $4.2 million. The campus was built in the early 1970s with additions in the 1980s and designed for another era. The facility upgrade is needed to more efficiently serve students, incorporate technology, and provide students a safe learning environment in the shops and laboratories.
The upgrade was also necessary to fully realize the benefits from the U.S. Department of Labor TAACCCT Advanced Manufacturing Education (AME) grant that was awarded to the consortium of two-year colleges in central Minnesota and to expand programming for agriculture.
The AME grant is providing the resources to offer programs and training needed by manufacturers as this important sector of the state’s economy expands. Recently, over $1 million in state-of-the-art equipment has been purchased for the machining, robotic, mechatronics and welding programs at the college. Regional support from regional manufacturers has been overwhelming. They pledged over $2 million to support the grant. This grant is a good example of a strong partnership of the private and public sectors to create economic opportunity.
With regard to agriculture, CLC, Northland Community and Technical College and Ridgewater College are partnering to create the Northern Center of Excellence for Agriculture. As a result, the Staples site will play a prominent role. The agriculture and energy center is expanding to include new industry partners. Beginning this fall, regional high schools will be utilizing the site to create new pathways to careers in agriculture for their students. Two soil and water scientists from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture will have their offices at the site starting in June. New associate degrees will be in place for fall semester, 2015.
The Staples project took more effort to get funded. All of the regional legislators were supportive of these projects as was the governor. However, strong sustained support and advocacy were needed in both Houses to get the project funded.
Rep. John Ward, with support from Rep. Joe Radinovich, was instrumental in making sure that the Staples project remained on the House list of projects to be funded and in the final bill. They were joined by Rep. Ron Kresha in voting for the final bill. In the Senate, Sen. Paul Gazelka, with support from Sen. Carrie Ruud, was also instrumental in working with Senate leadership to keep the project on the Senate list of projects to be funded. The college very much appreciates this bipartisan support on the part of our regional legislators as well as the action by House Committee Chair Alice Hausman and Senate Chair LeRoy Stumpf ensuring that the Staples project in particular was funded.
The college also very much appreciates the strong external support the Staples project received from across the political spectrum. The college wishes to thank Staples community members and city officials, labor, and the business and agriculture communities for advocating for the project.
This investment in the Staples campus is a win for rural Minnesota. Most importantly, students will be better served. The region and state will benefit from the college’s ability to be a key player in providing education and training for the workplace and in economic development.
Larry Lundblad is president of Central Lakes College with campuses in Staples and Brainerd.