Eastman Hall renovations face budget quandary

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In the last election cycle, members of Senate Districts 14, 14A and House District 14B had in-depth discussions about a bonding bill going through the MN legislature and how they were going to spend it in their district.

One project the incumbents looked at was the redevelopment of Eastman Hall by turning it into a health center — but the project is put on hold because the bill did make it through the current legislative session.

A short time ago, Gov. Mark Dayton proposed a 1.5 billion dollar capital investment plan for the state of Minnesota which included a bonding bill, but MN House Speaker Kurt Daubt said there wasn’t enough support for the bill to pass.

The School of Health and Human Services sent in its proposal last year and has the model design ready to go, but without the green light from the legislature, the project is put on hold.

According to Jim Knoblach, House District 14b Rep. there’s a “reasonable” sized bonding bill that could be approved during the next legislative session and renovations for Eastman could potentially be in it.

“Normally we don’t do larger bonding bills in an odd-numbered year, those are usually for emergencies,” Knoblach said. “We usually wait until the even-numbered years to implement that type of bill, but I would certainly expect Eastman to be mentioned in the next fiscal year.”

Knoblach also says the amount that would be given in the next bonding bill is still up for discussion, but since the state government didn’t spend as much as it had intended last year, there is potential for them to spend more in 2017, the amount that would need to be invested on Eastman is 18.5 million dollars.

Eastman Hall opened its doors to the campus in the year 1929 acting as the first physical fitness facility and a teachers college for SCSU. Even though Hallenbeck Hall, the university’s current fitness center opened its doors in 1965 — Eastman was still operating as the main fitness center until its closure between 2012 and 2013, since then the building has been unoccupied.

Monica Devers, the Dean for the School of Health and Human services is one of the pioneering voices in support of the renovation and transition. She says it would be beneficial for students who are seeking treatment of any kind and a great opportunity for health and human services type degrees to get their hands on learning equipment and apply their knowledge from the classroom to the real world.

The make-up of the building would consist of Student Health Services, Uchoose and Counseling and Psychological Services. Student Health Services would be on the second floor, CAPS would be on the 3rd floor and Uchoose would be on the first floor, with clinical training services offered on the second and third floor.

“Public health, nursing, social work and counseling degrees are in high demand,” Devers said. “CentraCare is one of our biggest employers and they rely on our students to be as experienced as they can, Eastman is just another niche for work we are going to do.”

She also mentions that her department is working closely with the newly elected Senators and Representatives in order to get the approval from Congress.

One of the current issues facing the Counseling and Psychological Services center on campus is that it’s located right in Stewart Hall, in an open hall with classrooms directly across from it. This has caused students to feel a lack of privacy when going to get treated for their mental health needs.

Devers says that is one of the intents of putting CAPS inside the health center.

“Students are going to be coming to Eastman Hall for a variety of reasons, whether it’s a class, an event or an annual check-up,” she said. “We are trying to de-stigmatize the process of going in to get counseling because there could be multiple reasons for getting counseling.”

The Department of Health and Human Services says it is optimistic that the legislature will play out in their favor within the next fiscal year.

 

 

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