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Student at legislative briefing.

Tiffany Varilek, a student at the Labovitz School of Business and Economics and UMD student body president, spoke on behalf of a new building for the Labovitz School.

U kicks off legislative advocacy efforts

By Rick Moore

January 27, 2006; updated February 8

Although the first knocks of the gavel for the 2006 Minnesota State Legislature are still more than a month away, the University's legislative advocacy efforts have begun in earnest.

On Wednesday evening, January 25, the U's Legislative Network held its annual Legislative Briefing--a gala event designed to educate friends and supporters of the University about the U's legislative request. The event, which attracted a record crowd of nearly 400 people, included dinnertime music by the University of Minnesota Alumni Band, a presentation of the U's 2006 Capital Request by President Bob Bruininks--aided by faculty, staff, and student stakeholders--and a touch of symbolic magic (a "burning" dollar bill) by the chair of the Department of Chemistry.

Bruninks outlined the University's request for projects to be included in the state's bonding bill--which provides assistance for building and renovation projects for public entities, including the University of Minnesota.

This year, the University is seeking $206.1 million from the state to maintain and update existing facilities and to build a number of new buildings. Counting its own contribution of one-third of the cost of new construction, the U's total 2006 capital request is for $269.1 million.

As is usually the case, the largest portion ($80 million) of the U's request is for what's known as "HEAPR," or Higher Education Asset Preservation and Replacement; in other words, building upkeep and upgrades.

Steve Spehn, the associate vice president for facilities management at the U, noted that the University's entire physical plant--more than 800 buildings around the state--comprises about the same space as 17,000 average homes. But what the U is seeking with its HEAPR request is just "a fraction of what it would cost to maintain 17,000 homes," Spehn said. HEAPR funds will be used for nearly 150 projects spanning health and safety improvements, building system improvements, and utility infrastructure.

Business education is a focal point of the University's request. The U is seeking funding for a $39.9 million expansion of the Carlson School of Business on the Twin Cities campus. The new space will help meet the growing demand for business graduates--the school is currently only able to serve 12 percent of applicants--and provide a new home for the Department of Economics.

In Duluth, a new building ($23 million) is proposed for the Labovitz School of Business and Economics, which also has outgrown its current space. Tiffany Varilek, an undergraduate Labovitz School student and UMD student body president, spoke of the space constraints that business students there face. "It's difficult to learn when 50 students are crammed into a room that was designed to be a conference room," she said.

Two other new buildings are proposed for the Twin Cities campus: a Science Teaching and Student Services Center ($62 million), which would be located on the site of the current Science Classroom Building at the head of the Washington Avenue Bridge; and a Medical Biosciences Building ($60 million), which would be constructed adjacent to the Center for Magnetic Resonance Research and allow for the expansion of crucial research programs.

The request also includes $4.2 million in funding for three research centers and field stations: the Cedar Creek Natural History Area, Cloquet Forestry Center, and West Central Regional Outreach Center.

Supplemental request

The U has also submitted a supplemental budget request to the state asking for $14.4 million in one-time funds and $8.3 million in recurring funds. The majority of that ($6.3 million in one-time funds and $8.3 million recurring) is to cover unanticipated energy cost increases. In addition, the U is requesting $4.9 million for interactive simulation equipment for the School of Dentistry, and $3.2 million to replace out-of-date equipment in the Veterinary Medical Center.

In mid-January, Governor Tim Pawlenty announced his recommendations for the state's bonding bill, which covered $127.6 million of the U's $206.1 million request. Pawlenty's recommendation would provide only half of the U's request for HEAPR, would not provide any funding for research centers and field stations, and would fund only $4.3 million (planning costs) of the new biosciences building.

The governor's recommendation serves as a starting point for the Minnesota Legislature. The house and senate will now develop their own versions of a bonding bill, which will then be reconciled into one and sent to Pawlenty for approval.

"We're pleased the governor is supporting some very important, strategic investments in our students," said President Bob Bruininks. "His bonding bill is a good start, and we look forward to working with the legislature to build on it."

For updates on the U's 2006 Capital Request, see State Relations.