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MN legislators tour area colleges, food bank on bonding tour

Debra Kiel

Members of the Minnesota House Capital Investment Committee were in northwest Minnesota Wednesday to examine areas where bonding money has had a positive impact and other public facilities where funds are still needed.

Rep. Deb Kiel, R-Crookston, invited committee members through their tour of the region, which included stops at Northland Community and Technical College in East Grand Forks, the North Country Food Bank in Crookston and University of Minnesota-Crookston.

"It's really important that they're aware of our needs," Kiel said.

NCTC received about $980,000 in bonding money in the 2017 legislative session, according to President Dennis Bona.

Kiel said the North Country Food Bank missed out on state dollars in the last session, and she hopes showing her fellow legislators the facility will help the food bank get funding next year.

Capital Investment Committee members got a chance to see how those dollars were being put to use Wednesday, as Bona and his staff led them through health profession labs the college is expanding at its East Grand Forks campus.

NCTC is in the process of expanding its labs for respiratory health care, pharmaceutical studies and occupational therapy, which Bona said will allow them to serve more students and provide more health professionals in the area.

Kiel said the bonding money for local colleges is critical to the region because it provides employers with skilled workers and helps attract new people to northwest Minnesota.

"Our programs might be small but it's important for this area," she said.

The capital investment committee was riding around the region in large coach bus, while Kiel followed along in her blue Mini Cooper. She said the other legislators, many of whom came from the Twin Cities metro area, were surprised at the size of District 1B, which stretches from East Grand Forks past Thief River Falls and includes Polk, Red Lake, Pennington, Marshall, Kittson and Roseau counties.

Bona said the school was grateful for the bonding money it received this year, but wanted to show legislators projects they are hoping to fund in the coming years. NCTC's Thief River Falls campus has an $8.6 million maintenance backlog, and the East Grand Forks campus has a $7.6 million backlog, according to the school.

Next session, the school is hoping to get about $2 million, but Bona knows that might not happen.

"We know and appreciate there's not a high probability we'll get funded in the next cycle because we just did," Bona said.

Still, the meeting is an opportunity for the college, which serves about 5,000 students across its two campuses, to show legislators what they are doing and where future dollars could go.