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The Teepee Tonka Park tunnel, built in the late 1930s, will soon be lit, making the tunnel safer and discouraging congregating. Councilor Janna Viscomi also asked if the tunnels could be painted to make them look more appealing. (Renata Erickson/Faribault Daily News)

The City Council is brightening passage through what used to be a root cellar that dates back to 1937.

Just south of the Teepee Tonka Park, a tunnel used by walkers and bikers, connects the southeast Faribault park to the River Bend Nature Center. Like the tunnels themselves, their history is multi-layered. They were once utilized as a storage and transportation space for the Faribault Regional Center, a school, home and hospital for people with developmental disabilities.

“Over the past few years, there have been discussions about the lighting in the tunnel south of Teepee Tonka Park,” Parks and Recreations Director Paul Peanasky wrote in a May 28 memo to the City Council.

Lighting will create a safer path for users, and discourage loitering, Peanasky said.

“The tunnel will have multiple controls on them,” Peanasky wrote. “They will be similar to the tunnel under Highways 3 and 21 where lights are on brighter during the day, half of the lights are on in the evening, and all the lights go off at about 11 p.m.”

The city received four quotes from electrical companies to install lights in the tunnel. The lowest quote was from Slinger Electric, Inc. for $8,600. Additional costs from Xcel Energy to bring power supply down the pole are estimated by contractors to be $5,000.

Counselor Janna Viscomi proposed painting the tunnel and maybe adding a picnic table nearby to make the tunnel a destination rather than just a path under a hill.

Because costs were well under budget, the City Council is hoping to discuss additional improvements to the historic tunnel later this year. It asked Peanasky to come back with recommendations for additional improvements.

Digging into history

According to a June 22, 1937 newspaper article, the tunnel, along with the city's viaduct, was created in the 1930s by the Works Progress Administration, a program of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt administration. The tunnels were utilized by the Faribault Regional Center to store food for the residents in the late winter and spring.

“According to Dr. J. M. Murdoch, superintendent of what was then known as the School for Feeble-Minded and Colony for Epileptics, required about 18,000 bushels, (30 cartloads) of potatoes, 2,000 bushels of carrots, 1,200 bushels each of beets and onions, and 40 to 45 tons of cabbage to feed the 2,300 residents and 350 employees and staff members," read the article.

The school grew all of its vegetables, except for half of the potatoes, on the school farm. Sixty feet underground, the new tunnel was the perfect temperature to keep the vegetables cool as the old tunnels were too close to the surface.

Rice County Historical Society records dating back to the early 1900s say the tunnels were used to transport sick residents to the city hospital and deliver food. Staff also used the tunnels in poor weather.

In 1913, ceiling tracks were installed in the tunnels to deliver food from the Central kitchen to residents via trolleyed carts.

Reporter Renata Erickson can be reached at 507-333-3129. Follow her on Twitter @FDNrenata.

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