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ST. CLOUD — One of the first bills Rep. Dan Wolgamott, DFL-St. Cloud, authored when he took office in 2019 was a funding request for a children's museum in downtown St. Cloud.

A local bank donated a building to museum organizers in 2018, but the space — which also housed a chick hatchery, car dealership and grocer at some point in its history — requires extensive renovations to transform into a museum.

Just before the session came to a close late Monday, the Legislature passed a $2.6 billion infrastructure package, which includes $7 million for the Great River Children's Museum to begin renovations. With the funding boost, the museum is expected to open late next year.

"As a dad, the biggest reason I ran for office is to make St. Cloud a better place to raise a family. Kids learn through play," he said. "This is a huge victory for kids. This is a huge victory for families. It's also a victory for downtown St. Cloud.

"Getting it over the finish line feels pretty good," Wolgamott added.

The Great River Children’s Museum in downtown St. Cloud is expected to open in late 2024.
The Great River Children’s Museum in downtown St. Cloud is expected to open in late 2024.

Jenny Berg, Star Tribune

The infrastructure package also includes $3.9 million for St. Cloud Regional Airport to replace outdated instrument landing systems, $2.5 million for parking improvements at the Ledge Amphitheater in Waite Park, $2.5 million for flooding mitigation in Sartell neighborhoods, $1.2 million to update the lift station in Rockville and $7.5 million for improvements to Town Line Road on the west side of Sartell.

Growth in the western part of the St. Cloud metro has increased traffic on Town Line Road, which runs between Hwys. 4 and 5. The narrow highway is maintained by two cities and three townships, which has complicated plans to improve the road, said Rep. Tim O'Driscoll, R-Sartell.

Many of the requests have been years in the making. But because the Legislature hasn't passed a meaningful infrastructure package since 2020, legislators felt pressure to push through the spending this year.

"This has been a longtime coming but we finally got it done," O'Driscoll said.

Sen. Jeff Howe, R-Rockville, co-authored the bills for Sartell flood mitigation and Town Line Road improvements with O'Driscoll. He said he's glad the infrastructure projects are finally being funded but would have liked legislators to communicate and compromise as well as they did on Monday during the entire session.

"I wonder how good of a session we could have had if we would have had the cooperation we had the last couple of days," he said.

The infrastructure package also allocates $5 million to help design the new medical campus being planned in partnership between the University of Minnesota and CentraCare, the region's largest health care provider.

That money comes on top of $10 million included in the higher education bill to help get the ball rolling on the accreditation process, which has a narrow window for completion, according to Sen. Aric Putnam, DFL-St. Cloud. Once the campus is accredited, it should become easier for organizers to raise additional money to for the project, he said.

The U and CentraCare initially requested $72 million, which would have helped secure scholarships, residency programming and a rural health research program. Wolgamott said he thinks this initial investment will act as a catalyst for the Legislature to allocate new funding in future sessions.

"Now that the state has some skin in the game and the project is getting underway, it's getting some momentum," he said.