Regents prepare funding request at fall meeting

Brad Unangst

University officials are taking the first steps Thursday to regain state funding for six capital projects vetoed last May by Gov. Jesse Ventura.

The Board of Regents is scheduled to review a $61 million supplemental capital request along with the University’s six-year capital budget plan at its September meeting at the University’s Crookston campus.

The goal of the plan is to identify the projects the University will present for the state in the next legislative session. It sets the priority and direction for continued planning while defining the additional debt the University will assume for the projects.

The full board will also receive an update and conduct a discussion on the progress of the joint Gophers-Vikings football stadium pre-design for the first time since April 2001.

While the board is not expected to vote on either issue at the Thursday and Friday meetings, its discussions will help provide the framework for the University’s 2002-03 state legislative agenda.

University officials are hoping to convince legislators to approve the supplemental request, which includes $37 million in funding for construction of the Translational Research Facility, $8 million for renovations to Jones Hall and $3 million to design the Institute of Technology Teaching and Technology Center during the 2003 session. Normally, state capital requests are approved every other year.

The entire capital plan totals nearly $775 million, with $647 million in state funding and $128 million in University funding. The Legislature requires the University to pay for one-third of the requested bonding costs. The plan also recommends a $250 million total request, with $30 million in assumed debt by the University for each of the next three requests.

The board is expected to vote on the capital plan in October.

University officials said they are confident state legislators, along with the new governor, will approve most of the requests, considering two-thirds of the funding will be used for repair and renovation to existing University buildings. The remaining third will go toward new building construction.

“We know we won’t get it all,” said University Chief Financial Officer Richard Pfutzenreuter. He added that the current capital plan is comparable to past requests, which averaged approximately 15 percent of the state’s bonding bill.

“I expect there will be a lot of sympathy for the merit, the value of these projects,” said University Interim President Robert Bruininks.

While University and Vikings officials aren’t looking for sympathy from the Legislature to secure funding for the new stadium (at one time estimated to cost $500 million), they are hoping Major League Baseball’s collective bargaining agreement between the players and owners will add more urgency to addressing the state’s football needs.

Vikings stadium consultant Lester Bagley said because the MLB’s labor agreement eliminated the threat of contraction through 2006, legislators can refocus their efforts from funding a baseball stadium to a new football stadium.

Under the last stadium plan, a 68,500-seat stadium would be built on the Huron Boulevard parking complex. Besides supplying the site, the University would be responsible for building two parking ramps attached to the stadium at a cost of $60 million.

When the state appropriated $500,000 for the stadium in May, the Legislature required the completed pre-designs and an agreement between the Gophers and Vikings on use of the stadium by December.

If funding for a stadium is not approved by March, the project will lose an approximately $50 million matching contribution from the National Football League.

“I don’t see any stumbling blocks to getting the work done by December,” Pfutzenreuter said.

Work on the stadium’s pre-design is already underway. In August, the University awarded five contracts for the completion of the stadiums conceptual design; water, sewer and power; roads and parking; and a second set of cost estimates.

The only real hurdle is finalizing the agreement with the Vikings, officials said.

Issues include shared access to the field and facilities, division of revenue and how the stadium will be managed, Bagley said.

Pfutzenreuter said reaching an agreement won’t be easy, but it would be in the best interest of the Vikings and Gophers to settle things before going to the Legislature.

Officials said pursuing both the University’s capital request and the stadium funding in the same session will be difficult, especially with a state deficit looming.

“The leadership and legislators involved in the stadium debate have said they don’t hold it against the University, and you’ve got to believe them,” Pfutzenreuter said. “But I’m not naive enough not to think that all things tend to add up.”

Other regent business

The Faculty, Staff and Student Affairs Committee will vote on the appointment of Kathleen O’Brien as vice president of University Services and Susan G. Stafford as dean of the College of Natural Resources. They will hear an annual report on the diversity of the University’s faculty and staff.

The Facilities Committee will take action on the sale of 28.7 acres at the West Central Research and Outreach Center to the Morris School District.

The Educational Planning and Policy Committee will hear an update on the University’s use of technology to enhance student learning.

Brad Unangst welcomes comments at [email protected]