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It's taken 10 years of wrangling, but the Shakopee women's prison will finally get a $5 million secure perimeter fence, thanks to Gov. Mark Dayton's signature Tuesday on a $1.17 billion capital investment bill.
The Minnesota Zoo will get $3 million to continue renovations on its former dolphin habitat, but Sparky the Sea Lion of Como Zoo in St. Paul will have to wait another year. And the Minnesota Children's Museum will get $14 million to help expand its gallery and program space by 50 percent.
In addition to the big-ticket, big-headline projects like $126 million for the ongoing renovation of the State Capitol and $240 million for projects at state colleges and universities, the bill finalized in the waning hours of the legislative session funds dozens of smaller projects around the metro area and state — from the $21 million renovation of Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis to $2 million for a pedestrian bridge in West St. Paul.
The bill included $3.75 million for the expansion and renovation of St. David's Center for Child and Family Development in Minnetonka, adding redesigned and expanded autism classrooms, a children's mental health clinic and improved early-childhood classrooms.
"Throughout this Legislative session, we were able to talk with many senators and representatives during tours of our facility and at the Capitol," said Julie Sjordal, St. David's executive director. "Time and time again, I was impressed by the value our leaders place on investing in better outcomes for children."
The Oliver H. Kelley Farm in Elk River, a living history site maintained by the Minnesota Historical Society, will get $10.5 million to increase the size of its visitor center and to renovate the space, adding modern amenities like Internet access and video conferencing capability.
"It's just going to benefit everyone, even the lambs and the cows and the chickens," said Jessica Kohen, spokeswoman for the Minnesota Historical Society.
The 127-acre Springbrook Nature Center in Fridley will receive $5 million toward improving its 7-acre entrance area. That includes money toward remodeling and adding onto the Interpretive Center, as well as creating an outdoor celebration area, a pavilion and outdoor classrooms, said Malcolm Mitchell, chairman of the Springbrook Nature Center Foundation Board. The center has been trying to get this project passed for a decade. "We're looking forward to getting started as soon as we can," Mitchell said.
In Shakopee, years of debate over whether the prison fence was needed will finally be put to rest.
At least a couple of neighbors have been vocal in opposing the fence, arguing that property values will fall and perceptions will change. Still, Warden Tracy Beltz and Terry Carlson, deputy commissioner of the state Department of Corrections, are both firm believers in the 17th-century proverb that says good fences make good neighbors.
"This is about as much about public safety as the safety for our staff and the offenders," Beltz said.
It won't be a typical prison fence made of concrete and razor wire.
Instead, the fence will be designed to fit in with the residential neighborhood and could resemble something that might encircle a private school campus, with masonry pillars and wrought-iron fencing — albeit 12 feet tall.
The prison has been in Shakopee since the early 1900s. When a new facility was built in 1986, plans called for a fenced portion, but budget constraints derailed that. It is the only facility of its kind in the nation that Beltz and Carlson know of that doesn't have a secure perimeter fence.
In 1986, there were 85 offenders there, 19 of whom had been convicted of murder. As of last October, there were 636 inmates in Shakopee, with 91 incarcerated for murder. Since 1995, there have been eight escapes, the most recent last December; another 18 escape attempts have been thwarted, said John Schadl, communications director for the Corrections Department.
Shakopee Mayor Brad Tabke said he hasn't heard much recently from neighbors opposed to the fence.
"The vast majority of people are really happy about it," he said.
Sparky the Sea Lion, a fixture at St. Paul's Como Zoo since 1956, was squeezed out of the bill, but the state-owned Minnesota Zoo will get $12 million for its continuing renovation and remodeling campaigns.
Como Zoo had been seeking $13.8 million, to be augmented by another $1 million in private donations, for a new habitat to be attached to its Marine Mammal Building.
But while Como Regional Park got $5.4 million for road and other transportation improvements, and St. Paul got bonding funds for other major projects, the zoo improvements got nothing this session.
State Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, chairwoman of the Capital Investment Committee, said while that was a personal disappointment, there were too many other priorities in the city and not enough money to go around.
"That's the dilemma — at a certain point, you can't just put an endless amount of money into just one city," Hausman said.
Of the Minnesota Zoo's take, about $3 million will be used to complete the renovation of the area that was formerly home to the zoo's dolphins. The new exhibit will feature rare seals, said Beth Burns, chief external relations officer for the zoo. About $4 million will be used to repair and renovate the 36-year-old zoo buildings and campus, Burns said, and another $5 million was designated for the design and planning of renovations to the main visitor's building, including better bathrooms, lighting and benches.
For a full breakdown of the bonding bill's projects, see www.tinyurl.com/pcx5f9w.
Staff writers Jim Anderson, Kim McGuire, Erin Adler and Laurie Blake contributed to this report.