U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Jim Leach, manager of the national wildlife refuges in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa, visited the site of the planned new environmental education building at Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge on May 27.
Klobuchar and Leach stopped at the refuge’s headquarters building, where they spoke with refuge manager Steve Karel, Friends of Sherburne Refuge President Sue Hix, and Sherburne County Commissioners John Riebel, Ewald Peterson and Rachel Leonard. The period for submitting bids to construct the approximately 4,000 square-feet, one-story, educational building is going on now, with the bid opening set for June 20.
Money for the construction, which is estimated to range between $800,000 and $1.5 million, according to Karel, is maintenance money contributed by a number of refuges in the eight-state refuge region. Leach explained that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will take the region’s maintenance money that it would normally use to fund a number of refuge projects in the region this year and focus it all on the Sherburne Refuge’s environmental education building project.
A number of refuges already came together last year, sending their maintenance crews and excavation equipment to the Sherburne refuge to do the excavation for the site.
It was also last year that the old schoolhouse along Sherburne County Road 9, just north of the site of the planned new building, was destroyed. The old school house had been condemned for health and safety reasons and since 2010 was no longer being used by the refuge. Refuge management arranged for area firefighters to burn the school house down as a training burn.
Klobuchar said during her refuge visit that the era of congressional earmarks, where members of Congress would earmark money for projects in their districts, is gone. She explained that she therefore didn’t know where she might be able to get funds approved in Congress for the rest of the refuge’s planned construction project. The remaining part of the project would be the addition of a visitors center and a new staff headquarters for the refuge to the planned environmental educational structure. There is no target date for doing the latter phase.
Hix explained that there is no projected date for the second phase because of not knowing where the money for that would come from.
The target completion of the environmental education building is late next year. Construction would begin this coming fall but the onset of winter would then slow things up until the following spring, Karel said.