U’s lack of formal construction priorities irks some legislators

by Libby George

Students confounded by constant campus construction might think the University – with 379 major buildings on four campuses – has prioritizing building projects down to a science.

Not so, University Chief Financial Officer Richard Pfutzenreuter, University Services Vice President Kathy O’Brien and Academic Affairs Vice Provost Albert Sullivan told the House Capital Investment Committee on Wednesday.

Instead, they told legislators the University balances academic concerns with the Board of Regents’ strategic initiatives and restoration necessities – without a numerical ranking system or exact criteria -to determine what projects happen first.

“We really balance these three legs on the stool in terms of priorities,” O’Brien said.

The University has an “enormous wish list” of potential projects exceeding $2.5 billion, Pfutzenreuter said, but the institution has honed down the list for this year to 12 projects totaling $250 million.

Rep. Philip Krinkie, R-Shoreview, said he was skeptical of the efficiency of a system without rank.

“When you admit students you look at things like SAT scores, ACT scores Ö why is it that an institution that does all this cannot come up with a ranking system?” Krinkie asked.

He also said it would be difficult to objectively choose projects without specific caveats.

Pfutzenreuter said he stood by the University’s system and told the committee many people oversee the process and ensure its objectivity.

“It’s a complicated process,” Pfutzenreuter said, adding that the University is always “trying to stay ahead of what the state may have in its bonding bill.”

O’Brien told legislators the University has changed the way Facilities Management and construction projects are run – including a Capital Investments Projects Committee ensuring projects are on time, within their budgets and fulfilling their objectives.

O’Brien said the change occurred because University President Robert Bruininks was committed to “restoring trust and confidence in building projects and construction,” but he added it was also needed because of recent “cost overruns.”

Krinkie said he was not impressed by the changes.

“Basically, somebody screwed up,” he told O’Brien.

Pfutzenreuter said the Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory in St. Paul – which former Gov. Jesse Ventura vetoed – is also part of this year’s planned projects.

“We hoped that the Legislature would restore vetoed projects, so that is on the plate,” Pfutzenreuter said.

Pfutzenreuter also lobbied for the Translational Research Facility – which Ventura also vetoed.

“This project lives and dies on whether we have state funding,” Pfutzenreuter said.

Libby George covers politics and welcomes comments at [email protected]