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Under renovation with state dollars, Glensheen gives backdrop for bonding tour

Sen. Tom Bakk, I-Cook, led the Minnesota Senate's bonding committee into Duluth on Thursday, intent to hear more about the $5 billion worth of projects in need of state money.

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Senior project manager for the University of Minnesota, John Kessler, left, talks about Glensheen's formal garden restoration Thursday, Sept. 23, 2021, at the historic estate in Duluth. The $4 million project was part of the 2018 Minnesota State Legislature bonding bill. Samantha Erkkila / Duluth News Tribune
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Glensheen’s formal gardens stood emptied Thursday — under restoration to keep the whole lot, never properly footed, from sliding closer to the lakeshore. It made for a dramatic backdrop as a select group of state senators roamed Duluth’s most famous estate.

The unfolding project included a team of Kraus-Anderson Construction Co. workers in an empty fountain, partially using brick refurbished from the estate to restore it.

The project was the result of $4 million in state bonding funds in 2018, and the Senate’s Capital Investment Committee stood over the work on a day they would hear new funding requests in Two Harbors, Duluth, Cloquet and Pine City.

“You have to keep up with maintenance, and we’ve got so many buildings all over this state that need asset preservation, like Glensheen here,” Sen. Tom Bakk, I-Cook, told the News Tribune on the patio.

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Senators Tom Bakk, far right, Jen McEwen, second from right, and Jason Rarick, middle, along with others from the Minnesota Senate's bonding committee receive a tour of the renovations happening at Glensheen on Thursday, Sept. 23, 2021. The historic estate's formal garden is being restored and preserved as part of the state's 2018 bonding bill. Samantha Erkkila / Duluth News Tribune

Bakk and the committee were touring Northeastern Minnesota this week, having visited the northwestern corner of the state in August. The committee is hearing scores of proposals as part of $5 billion in requests. A third are aimed at higher education and the state’s college and university campuses, Bakk said.

Indeed, the University of Minnesota Duluth was seeking $1.6 million to design out the renovations of its gutted and empty UMD science building.

“The university is asking for funding for a core building at the heart of campus,” Sen. Jen McEwen, DFL-Duluth, said. “Having a major university branch in our community is such an important part of who we are in Duluth.”

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State Senator Jen McEwen, DFL-Duluth, toured Glensheen with other state Senators and members of the Minnesota Senate's bonding committee Thursday, Sept. 23, 2021, to hear Sen. Tom Bakk, I-Cook, talk about local project proposals. Samantha Erkkila / Duluth News Tribune

While McEwen and Sen. Jason Rarick, R-Pine City, are not part of Bakk’s bonding committee, they were on hand for the local project proposals.

“Like meeting somebody face to face, it brings a different perspective when you’re actually on site and see what the benefits will be if you make that investment,” Rarick said at Glensheen.

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Spurred by the pandemic, the Minnesota Legislature passed a $1.87 billion bonding bill during its 2020 session, what would normally be considered an off-year for the major project spending which makes up state bonding.

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Melissa Ekman, an architect with Miller Dunwiddie in Minneapolis, stands atop a ladder and peers into the fountain in Glensheen's formal garden Thursday, Sept. 23, 2021. Samantha Erkkila / Duluth News Tribune

McEwen is eager to pass projects in Duluth, and others throughout the state, including St. Louis County’s $4.5 million request for landfill upgrades in Virginia, $3.83 million for ongoing Depot improvements, and the city of Duluth’s $12 million ask for Spirit Mountain revitalization.

“There’s a lot already invested in these specific projects,” McEwen said, describing them as carefully considered, mostly dollar-matched by their jurisdictions, and ready to go.

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A man works on the brick wall restoration in the formal garden at Glensheen on Thursday, Sept. 23, 2021. Samantha Erkkila / Duluth News Tribune

“I had wanted to see more done with bonding last year, so now that we’re at the bonding year, let’s go,” McEwen said. “We need to push our elected officials, myself included, all of us need to get on board with a robust bonding bill.”

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Bakk and Rarick both tempered that enthusiasm.

“I’m hopeful we can get something similar to that coming up this winter when we put our bonding bill together,” Bakk said in reference to 2020's $1.8 trillion figure. “The wild card right now is the federal infrastructure bill. … We think that’s going to be a lot of road and bridge money, so that will take some pressure off of the state bonding bill.”

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State Senator Jason Rarick, R-Pine City, traveled to Duluth on Thursday, Sept. 23, 2021, to hear Sen. Tom Bakk, I-Cook, talk to the Minnesota Senate's bonding committee about local project proposals at Glensheen. Samantha Erkkila / Duluth News Tribune

Rarick was wary of “pork and fluff,” instead speaking favorably of work like the $5 million ask in his district to upgrade the water line from Cloquet to the Western Lake Superior Sanitary District.

“The last couple of years it’s been bigger than normal, and, for me, I’m OK with that if it’s going toward infrastructure and helping with that,” Rarick said.

Bakk noted a need to support wastewater treatment facilities across the state, which are driven to make improvements to meet state standards. He noted Ely, which is asking for $9 million to help further reduce mercury discharge into Shagawa Lake.

“It’s a real challenge for cities to make those kinds of necessary improvements on their own, so the state of Minnesota has to partner with them,” Bakk said.

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Sen. Tom Bakk, I-Cook, stands on the Glensheen patio overlooking the formal garden in Duluth on Thursday, Sept. 23, 2021, prior to his presentation about local state bonding projects. Samantha Erkkila / Duluth News Tribune

The News Tribune asked McEwen about the $12 million request from the city of Duluth as part of a $24 million capital investment in the ski and recreational area.

“Any time you can use resources we already have and reinvest in them so they will provide more for our community and do better, that’s really good stuff,” McEwen said, applauding the city administration’s vision for the area.

This story was updated at 5:45 p.m. Sept. 23, 2021 to clarify UMD's request for funding, wanting $1.6 million for design of renovations . It was originally posted at 4:43 p.m., Sept. 23, 2021.

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Kraus-Anderson Construction workers restore the brick walls of the formal garden at Glensheen on Thursday, Sept. 23, 2021. The $4 million restoration project, which also includes replacing the historic estate's boiler, was part of the Minnesota State Legislature's 2018 bonding bill. Samantha Erkkila / Duluth News Tribune

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