Kaler outlines long-term lab plans at Senate

Each capital request project affects future ones, Kaler told a Senate committee Tuesday.

by Jessica Lee

The University of Minnesota’s 2014 capital request puts Twin Cities research labs in the spotlight, asking legislators to approve plans to gut some existing facilities and construct new ones, while less-scientific campus buildings have to wait their turn for upgrades.

While this year’s request focuses on improving buildings in science, technology, engineering and mathematics departments, the University has a long-range plan to renovate buildings in other campus areas, specifically the English department, as part of a larger arc of construction projects.

One project affects another, University President Eric Kaler said in front of the Senate Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee on Tuesday, and the University makes its annual request based on the current needs of the five-campus system.

If legislators approve setting aside state funding to rehabilitate the Tate Laboratory of Physics on the East Bank — one of the University’s top priorities — that would provide new space for the earth sciences program, which is currently housed in Pillsbury Hall.

The University hopes to later repurpose that building for the English department, but it cannot do so until Tate is renovated.

Pending approval from the 2016 state Legislature, future renovations to English department buildings would in turn open up space in Lind Hall for the College of Science and Engineering.

“These requests come in waves,” Kaler said to the senators.

The University is asking for nearly $57 million to update classrooms and sections of the School of Physics and Astronomy, establishing the new place for the University’s Department of Earth Sciences.

Besides Tate, the 2014 capital request asks for funding to construct a new Microbial Sciences Research Building and improve the bee and aquatic invasive species research laboratories on the St. Paul campus, while asking for $100 million in Higher Education Asset Preservation and Replacement.

“We can’t educate and train the workforce of tomorrow in last century’s facilities,” he said to the senators while outlining the University’s nearly $233 million request.

The request also asks for $10 million to expand Crookston’s wellness center and $24 million to build a new research building for the Swenson College of Science and Engineering on Duluth’s campus.

The science-focused request comes a year after state legislators put pressure on the University to award more STEM degrees — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — to receive its full amount of state funding for the current biennium.

Senators on the committee will review the request Wednesday and fill out a survey, prioritizing the projects, said Sen. Terri Bonoff, DFL-Minnetonka.

“This is not a STEM bias or a long-term trend on the part of the University,” Kaler said at the meeting, “but rather represents the point in time that we are in now in the continuum of the evolution across our campuses.”