(a) The commissioner may acquire and better, or make grants to counties, home rule charter or statutory cities, or school districts to acquire and better, residential environmental learning centers where students may learn how to use, preserve, and renew the natural resources of this state. A facility and reasonable access to it must be owned by the state or a political subdivision but may be leased to or managed by a nonprofit organization to carry out an environmental learning program established by the commissioner. The lease or management agreement must comply with the requirements of section 16A.695 and must provide for the procurement of liability insurance by the nonprofit organization. A nonprofit organization that is operating an environmental learning center under this section is a municipality for purposes of the liability limitations of section 466.04 while acting within the scope of these activities.
(b) During the time the center is used for educational programs offered in conjunction with a college or university, the rules and standards related to space requirements are governed by section 144.74.