House bonding bill includes $5 million for Springbrook Nature Center

The Minnesota House of Representatives released an $800 million bonding bill April 9 that includes $5 million for Springbrook Nature Center in Fridley.

A look at the improvements planned at Springbrook Nature Center. Submitted photo
A look at the improvements planned at Springbrook Nature Center. Submitted photo

“I’m excited to see this project included because the Springbrook Nature Center is such a valuable asset to our community and region,” Rep. Connie Bernardy, DFL-Fridley, stated in a news release. “The fact that the House felt compelled to fund the project shows how valuable Springbrook is to the region and Minnesota.”

The 2013 Omnibus Bonding bill (HF270) passed the House Capital Investment Committee last week and now moves onto Ways and Means. After that, it will be up for consideration on the House floor.

If the center receives the funding, “it would be a significant improvement for Springbrook Nature Center and the surrounding community,” retiring Springbrook Nature Center Director Siah St. Clair said.

The funds would be used for an improvement project several years in the making to the seven-acre entrance area, including replacing the old picnic shelter with a modern picnic pavilion with rest rooms, water and grills; constructing a celebration plaza next to the picnic area for memorial services and other community events; constructing an outdoor amphitheater and five outdoor classrooms; expanding the parking lot; and constructing an addition to the existing 5,600 square-foot interpretive center building to triple its size.

“It’s very multipurpose,” St. Clair said about the project. The money being requested in the bonding bill needs to be matched by $1.9 million in private funding, for a total project cost of $6.9 million.

“What initiated this whole project years ago was the concern that Springbrook was being loved to death,” he said. “We never developed with it in mind that we’d have so many visitors every year.”

The addition to the building, the most expensive part of the project, will include solar cells on the roof, utilization of geothermal energy and more.

“One of our goals is to have the building itself become an exhibit with a lot of green technology,” St. Clair said.

The larger space would also give the center more room for exhibits and would accommodate larger groups.

St. Clair said they currently have to turn down requests for weddings, business retreats and other events.

Including in-kind donations, Springbrook Nature Center Foundation Chairman Malcolm Mitchell said the foundation has so far raised about $450,000.

The first part of phase one of the project — constructing a berm, or a raised earthen mound, used as a barrier along 85th Avenue for noise reduction and safety — is complete.

The project has made it through the bonding legislative process and to the governor’s desk three times in the past, St. Clair said, but former Gov. Tim Pawlenty line-item vetoed the project along with hundreds of others.

St. Clair said he’s hopeful the project will pass this time around.

“We’re moving forward with this project and the community is behind this,” St. Clair said. “I think that makes a big difference to legislators when they see people in the community coming together.”

The project is beneficial from the city of Fridley’s standpoint because it would allow for more programing, events and gatherings at Springbrook, Fridley Parks and Recreation Director Jack Kirk said.

“We think it would be a good project for the area, for our city,” he said. “We’re very limited on indoor space to hold large educational groups.”

Like St. Clair, Kirk said he’s optimistic.

“That we’re in the House bonding bill is a good sign,” he said. “This has been something we’ve looked at in the past, and I’ve felt we’ve had bipartisan support.”

There are no plans for the city to financially contribute to the project, Kirk said.

Mitchell said the project has been in the planning stages for a number of years. They first went to the Legislature in 2005 with their request.

“Springbrook is a wonderful place, and it would be a wonderful addition to meet the demands,” he said. “We see it as a regional destination and this would very much be a way to serve those people.”

If the center gets the money from the state, “it would make a huge difference,” St. Clair said.

It would also make a difference in the foundation’s ability to raise funds, he said. “If we actually have the money from the state, it makes businesses more willing to donate because they think it’s a project that will actually get done,” St. Clair said.

According to St. Clair, he testified in a Senate committee, and Mitchell and other Springbrook Nature Center representatives have also visited the Capitol to garner support.

“I know we have support in both chambers on both sides of the aisle, so we’re just trying to make this happen,” St. Clair said. “We’re really positioned well now to bring this project to fruition.”

Elizabeth Sias is at [email protected]