University of Minnesota students and faculty members are going to work on a variety of initiatives in Carver County in a partnership that was formally launched last week.
The Resilient Communities Project (RCP) matches projects identified by government agencies with students and professors who research and develop options to address.
The 1-year partnership will put students to work on about 30 different projects for the county, the cities of Chaska, Victoria and Watertown, School District 112 and SouthWest Transit.
Carver County Board Chairman Randy Maluchnik said the partnership will provide “an infusion of energy and creativity to move projects forward, opportunities to test new ideas and make data-driven decisions, not decisions based on political rhetoric or sound bites.”
Topics to be explored will cover areas from energy conservation to aquatic invasive species.
For invasive species, for example, students will strive to identify approaches the county can use to evaluate the effectiveness of aquatic invasive species prevention efforts.
In Chaska, one project calls for recommending safety improvements for bicycle and pedestrian access at Highway 41 and Engler Boulevard, near the Chaska Community Center and Chaska Middle School West and Chaska Elementary School.
In Victoria, students will work on projects including developing a trail signage program and review the city’s firefighter staffing model and ways to meet increased needs as the population develops.
Wendy Petersen-Biorn, the executive director of the Carver County Historical Society, said the student support will save time and money for the organization in its preservation efforts related to the historic Andrew Peterson farmstead in Laketown Township. Petersen-Biorn said the site, which was originally home of the Swedish immigrant, is one of the two most historic properties in the county.
The goal of the Resilient Communities Project, according to Director Mike Greco, is to “leverage resources of the university to help communities with self-identified initiatives.” The program benefits students in a range of programs by allowing them to get “real-world” opportunities, Greco said.
The program is in its fourth year. Previously, the city’s of Minnetonka, North St. Paul and Rosemount were partners in the program.
Carver County was selected to participate through a competitive application process for the 2015-2016 school year.
The cost of participating in the program is $55,500, according to a county report. Carver County will be paying $23,500 and the remainder is split between other participating jurisdictions.
Carver County Commissioner Tom Workman voted against participating in the Resilient Communities Project.
Workman has said public officials should be skeptical of the program because it is an example of why government grows so fast.
Vince Beaudette and Vicki Ernst, co-chairs of the Carver County Republicans, also expressed concerns about the cost of the partnership because it appears to have a heavy emphasis on the “green agenda” and appears to place a heavy emphasis on “social re-engineering.”
The Carver County Board approved the Resilient Communities Project by a vote of 4 to 1.
“We will get a lot of work done at a good price for the taxpayers,” Maluchnik said.
Greco said about 400 students from nearly 20 different academic departments are expected to work on the projects. If governments hired these students as interns it would cost an estimated $400,000 or more, he said.
Once recommendations are developed on the projects around the county, it will be up to local governments to determine how and whether they will be implemented.
“All of these projects are nominated by staff and elected officials of Carver County,” Greco said. “None of these are coming from the University.”
Although not a formal partner in the project this year, the city of Chanhassen has applied to be selected for the Resilient Communities Project in the past, said Community Development Director Kate Aanenson. She said Chanhassen should be able to benefit from some of the projects on the countywide list.