Area lawmakers tour Winona as work begins on doling out money to state projects
Winona State University’s expansive Education Village project may have the support of area state lawmakers, but the $22.8 million project may be a hard sell in St. Paul next spring.
Members of the Senate’s capital investment committee visited Winona on Tuesday to study a number of funding requests for area projects, among them the Education Village, which would renovate three old school buildings into a modern campus for the university’s teacher education program.
WSU president Scott Olson pitched the project by detailing the university’s history as a leader in education, and its vision of becoming a world leader in education again by revolutionizing the way teachers learn — and teach teachers.
“This will be the ripple in the pond that reforms education in Minnesota,” Olson said. “We are going to reinvent education training.”
Lawmakers were intrigued by the proposal, but said the project had hurdles to overcome. Committee chair LeRoy Stumpf noted that the project is ranked 17 out of 25 in the Minnesota Colleges and Universities system’s requests. A project’s rank doesn’t preclude it from getting funding, but the Legislature usually tries to fund higher-ranked projects with the assumption that the others will then move up the list.
“There are a lot of projects that MnSCU has decided to put ahead of this one,” Stumpf said. “It’s going to be a long shot getting down to it.”
The Legislature approves a bonding bill nearly every year, but tends to put together much larger bills on sessions held in even years, when lawmakers aren’t tasked with approving a budget and many are beginning to hit the campaign trail.
Many area legislators, including Rep. Gene Pelowski, DFL-Winona, and Sen. Jeremy Miller, R-Winona, said they know there will be challenges in getting the Education Village project through in 2014. But they say they are up to the task.
“This will have a huge impact for the region and the state,” Miller said. “Pelowski and I will work closely with WSU, MnSCU and others to make this project a reality.”
WSU had initially requested $5.8 million in funding from the state and MnSCU during the 2013 session for the first phase of the project, which included hiring an architect and finalizing designs and possibly initial construction, but despite early support the request never made it to final approval.
This fall, WSU paid $339,000 for three properties located on Sanborn and Center streets formerly owned by the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart as part of ongoing plans for the project.
The Education Village would be a modern, 90,000-square-foot facility where educators of all levels would design the future of teacher education. The goal is to create an open environment where students, faculty and educators in Winona and school districts across the region can come together to learn and rewrite the rules of how teachers teach.