Regents ask Legislature for $17 million boost

Nichol Nelson

Freshmen hoping for a new place to gather and study in Nicholson Hall might have a long wait.
A plan to create a freshman studies center in Nicholson Hall is part of a supplemental budget request approved by the Board of Regents in December. The regents asked the state Legislature for $17 million, $15 million of which is earmarked to renovate and equip Nicholson as a part of an undergraduate initiative by University President Mark Yudof.
The money would be used to create 16 classrooms and 10 seminar rooms in Nicholson Hall while restoring the physical appearance of the historic building. The renovation plans also include three high-tech teaching labs and a large undergraduate computer lab.
The request will be considered by the state Legislature during this session. While the Legislature is expected to approve most of Yudof’s original $1.28 billion operating budget request, administrators admit the supplemental request is a long shot.
The reason for the pessimism lies in the timing of the supplemental request. The Legislature considers the operating budget for the University every two years. Yudof’s $1.28 billion request covers operating costs, such as heat and lighting, and new program expenses. The Legislature typically considers requests for new facilities — which is what the $17 million supplemental request is for — only in even numbered years.
The University’s decision to make a capital request in the same year as an operating request is an effort to link programs with the facilities that house them, said Richard Pfutzenreuter, associate vice president of the Office of Budget and Finance.
The University’s billion-dollar request includes a large budget for the expansion of the freshman seminar program. Yudof hopes the renovation of Nicholson Hall to include more classroom space for these seminars is a strong enough tie to convince the Legislature to approve the spending, officials said.
“The [request] is unusual, but not inconsistent with Yudof’s thinking,” Pfutzenreuter said. “We knew it was a long shot, but we felt that it was a pretty modest request.”
Legislators said exceptions to the even-year rule are rare, but have been made for emergency facility needs like leaky roofs or fires.
Rep. Lyndon Carlson, DFL-Crystal, said although the Legislature does not usually grant the University money for building renovation during odd years, there is a chance the University could get the money.
State Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, DFL-Thief River Falls, said although he has not yet seen the University’s budget proposal, a building remodeling request could go either way.
“The Legislature could say, ‘Gosh, please submit this for next year,’ or they could say, ‘OK, fine, we’ve got some extra cash,'” Stumpf said.