Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, introduced a bill that would require the state to sell the building purchased last spring for $6.9 million to serve as a morgue in case of high volumes of COVID-19 deaths.
To date, the building has not been used for that purpose, Kiffmeyer said. Kiffmeyer authored the bill and presented it to the State Government Finance and Policy Committee during a hearing Tuesday.
The purchase of the building and the amount of deaths projected at the time — up to 40,000 — caused “a great deal of fear amongst Minnesotans,” Kiffmeyer said. “I think it has really tainted the whole building to be remembered as that.”
In May of last year, Gov. Tim Walz and his administration purchased a warehouse in St. Paul for $6.9 million to be used for the “temporary storage of human remains.” However, when that purpose was never served, the building space was used to store medical supplies.
According to a video from three state lawmakers who were granted a tour of the facility in September, the building was filled with pallets of testing supplies, medical gowns, and related items.
Walz purchased the building without letting the Legislature have any say in the matter.
Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, said in the September video that the purchase was not “transparent,” and that it was “a consequence of the emergency powers and the governor not working with the Legislature.”
During Tuesday’s hearing, Kiffmeyer also made note of the Legislature’s lack of influence in the situation, saying the purchase was “totally in the power of the governor and his staff.”
Wayne Waslaski from the Department of Administration testified at the hearing to inform the committee that the building is “currently being used at full capacity,” holding PPE and testing supplies.
“If the building were sold in the very near future, we would have to find some place, somewhere else, to replace that 60,000 square feet of storage space to house testing supplies and PPE,” Waslaski said.
The money acquired from selling the building would be given back to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) fund that was used to purchase the warehouse. Additionally, the money from the property would be “designated as surplus,” according to Kiffmeyer’s bill.
Kiffmeyer said this bill “completes this whole process … cleans it up,” since there is no point in “keeping this building any longer.”