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This artist's rendering shows the proposed Bielenberg Sports Center field house. Submitted image

Woodbury looks to add sustainability features at new field house

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Woodbury is looking to outfit its upgraded Bielenberg Sports Center with sustainability enhancements and it's turning to the state to help foot the bill.

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A list of proposed bonding projects released last week by the state Department of Employment and Economic Development included a $1.5 million request from the city of Woodbury to fund a portion of the Bielenberg Sports Center (BSC) project.

The city plans to tear down the current domed field house next year and replace it with a permanent structure that proponents say will make it a more versatile athletic facility.

Woodbury Parks and Recreation Director Bob Klatt said the bonding request would fund a geothermal heating and cooling system and solar-power upgrades to reduce electricity and natural gas use at BSC.

He said the geothermal system would help cool an outdoor ice rink - one of the proposed upgrades slated for the sports center. The system would pump hot air produced in the process into the field house, Klatt explained.

Solar-power efforts would involve solar cells for electricity and a solar-thermal system that could heat water to reduce natural gas needs.

Klatt said savings projections aren't complete, but he pointed to the $100,000 yearly savings the center has received since outfitting its two existing indoor ice rinks with a geothermal system.

"The catch is, this equipment costs a lot more money," he said. "But in the long run it would save us a lot of money."

That's not the only catch.

There is a good chance the project won't be selected after it enters the political process at the Capitol, where lawmakers will pare down the list of bonding projects. Right now Woodbury is in line with more than 90 other governmental units seeking money from the state for public works projects.

A list released Tuesday adds up to $288 million worth of projects, though just $47.5 million is available.

"We were impressed by the volume and quality of the projects submitted for capital project grants," said Commissioner Mark Phillips of the Department of Employment and Economic Development. "In the next several weeks, we will evaluate the applications closely and make a decision on which projects are selected. It's going to take time, given the huge response to the program."

The three biggest project requests are in St. Paul ($27 million for a minor league baseball park), Rochester ($25 million for a civic center addition) and Minneapolis ($25 million for redesigning its downtown mall). Any two of them would exceed the money available.

Other projects range from funding a new fire station to fixing water systems.

Legislators in May approved a public works bill, to be funded by the state selling bonds, of almost $500 million.

Included in the measure was the $47.5 million in unallocated funds. It is the first time lawmakers told the administration to decide how to spend general bonding money.

Klatt said city officials understand their request is far from a sure thing, but said failure at the Capitol does not mean it would kill the entire BSC overhaul.

If it's turned down, the city could opt against installing the sustainability features. The alternative is to go ahead with the sustainability improvements, but to fund them locally.

"It's not critical that we receive state funds," Klatt said.

Woodbury City Council members will consider approving schematic designs for the BSC project at its July 24 meeting. If the project is greenlighted from there, the city would seek bids early next year and begin construction in April 2013 after the dome is torn down.

If all goes according to plan, the new field house will open in spring 2014, Klatt said.

Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau Chief Don Davis contributed to this report

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Mike Longaecker
Mike Longaecker is the regional public safety reporter for RiverTown Multimedia. His coverage area spans St. Croix and Pierce counties. Longaecker served from 2011-2015 as editor of the Woodbury Bulletin. A University of Wisconsin-River Falls graduate, Longaecker previously reported for the Red Wing Republican Eagle and for the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau. You can follow him on Twitter at @Longaecker
(715) 426-1072
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