A large portion of the University's capital request is for preserving its current buildings.
Money for bricks and mortar
by Paul Moore
From M, spring 2004
There's a skyway on the Twin Cities campus that literally connects the University's past with its present. You can leave a building built in 1912, Jackson Hall, and cross into one built in 1996, Basic Sciences and Biomedical Engineering. Fortifying that link between past and present is the cornerstone of the U's capital request this year.
With one quarter of the major campus buildings more than 70 years old, the University is asking the state for help in preserving those long-standing structures while also making important upgrades and expansions. In all, the U is asking the Minnesota State Legislature for $155.5 million in state bonding.
“We're not asking for an enormous amount of money, and the improvements aren't necessarily appealing on the surface,” says Donna Peterson, associate vice president for government relations. “But they will keep buildings functioning for the next 10 to 40 years.”
Every other year, the state of Minnesota takes on debt to pay for building projects that will benefit taxpayers for years to come. It's similar to taking out a mortgage to buy a house. The state then designates funds to pay down that debt when it passes its biennial budget.
This year, cognizant of the state's shaky financial situation, the university kept its request modest, asking that about half of the money be used for things like health and safety improvements, utility upgrades and building system improvements. Two-thirds of the campus buildings are more than 30 years old, and as any homeowner knows, when something like a roof starts to go, you have to fix it.
Kolthoff Hall, on the Twin Cities campus, is a perfect example. It's a 35-year-old building that is structurally sound, but its research labs are behind-the-times, and it needs mechanical, electrical and safety upgrades. On any given day, nearly 500 chemistry students do research, study and learn in what has become a sub-standard facility.
The University's request also looks to the future by including funds to plan business school expansions on the Twin Cities and Duluth campuses, as well as to improve recreational facilities at Duluth and Morris.
In mid-January, Governor Tim Pawlenty chose to include less than half of the U's request in his bonding proposal, leaving out funding for such projects as medical school classroom improvements and the business school expansion planning. While the governor's bonding proposal is influential, the final say rests with the legislature.
President Robert Bruininks was disappointed, but undeterred. “We have more than 200,000 alumni in Minnesota, more than 10,000 of whom are active advocates on behalf of the University,” he said. “And we will be asking them to contact their legislators.”