Camp Ripley, Minnesota Zoo make pitch for state bonding

Two requests top $26 million

By T.W. Budig, ECM Capitol Reporter

It’s show and tell time at the State Capitol.

Col. Bruce Jensen of the Minnesota National Guard testifies on the proposed education center addition at Camp Ripley. Don Kerr, Department of Military Affairs, listens.

State Military Affairs Department officials came before a House committee Wednesday, Feb. 22 to describe their bonding requests, including a $19.5 million request for the proposed educational complex addition at Camp Ripley.

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton included the $19.5 amount in his proposed $775 million bonding bill.

Rep. Mike LeMieur, R-Little Falls, is carrying the Camp Ripley bonding request in the House.

“This does have statewide significance,” LeMieur told the State Government Finance Committee of the addition.

Don Kerr, executive director of the Department of Military Affairs, and Col. Bruce Jensen, construction and facilities management officer for the Minnesota Army National Guard, detailed the reasoning behind the funding request to the committee.

For one thing, the reason they opted to go for state funding rather than federal is because federal funding is distant and uncertain. “We have a need to do this today,” Jensen said.

The proposed addition would provide expanded classroom space for an extra 200 students and provide lodging for an additional 40 visitors.

Kerr and Jensen stressed that Camp Ripley, though a central military training facility providing live-fire exercises, is also used by state law enforcement, the Minnesota State Patrol, the Department of Natural Resources and the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

Kerr quipped the MnDOT snow plowing school at Camp Ripley has been “saving the lives of Minnesota mailboxes across the state.”

As Camp Ripley has expanded, its attraction to a larger number of nonmilitary agencies has broadened. “The more we build, the more relevant we become,” Kerr said.

Indeed, the Boy Scouts use the camp as a regional jamboree site — 5,000 scouts at a time.

SWAT teams use the mock village at the camp to train troops, Kerr explained.

As for the camp lodgings, state agencies vie for those beds, he explained. They do pay a fee, though the rate is significantly lower than charged at area motels and staying at the camp saves in travel time, he said.

Beyond classroom space and lodging, a 400 person dining hall would be included in the addition. The camp currently uses a  barracks mess hall for transient dining, but the hall is limited to 120 people at a time.

Consequently, feeding large groups of people currently requires hours — time lost from training, Kerr explained.

Although the use of state bonding dollars is proposed for building the addition, it’s expected that federal dollars will pay for  long term upkeep.

Finance committee members will score the Camp Ripley addition project in terms of need, and these recommendations will be sent to the House Capital Investment Committee.


Zoo Funding

In another bonding related appearance, Minnesota Zoo Director Lee Ehmke held aloft a big piece of peeled paint from the salt water dolphin tank in the zoo’s Discovery Bay exhibit as evidence of the need for state funding.

Peeling paint is not something the zoo wants around its marine animals, Ehmke explained to the Senate Capital Investment Committee.

Nor do the federal officials overseeing the zoo’s license, he said.

Gov. Dayton included $7 million for the zoo in his bonding bill, dollars primarily meant to address the decaying dolphin tank.

But the zoo is requesting $30 million in bonding, with an eye towards upgrading the Tropics Nocturnal Trail and exhibit renewal on the Northern Trail, among other projects.

“I can’t emphasis enough the reinvention of the zoo,” Ehmke said of changing  exhibits in order to draw new visitors. Ehmke styled the $30 million bonding request as “catch up” funding for maintenance on the aging zoo.

Only about a quarter of the zoo’s $21 million budget comes from the state, he said.

The zoo attracts 1.2 million visitors annually, more than 200,000 coming from Greater Minnesota.

Camp Ripley and the Minnesota Zoo represent only a fraction of projects seeking state bonding dollars.