Superblock tops health expansion

The Academic Health Center needs updates, but admins say student housing takes priority.

Brooks Jackson, Vice President for Health Sciences and Dean of the Medical School, discuses long-term goals for health sciences facility upgrades at Board of Regents meeting on Wednesday, July 8. The University has been exploring options and setting goals for building upgrades in the health sciences buildings and in Superblock residential halls.

Christopher Wakefield

Brooks Jackson, Vice President for Health Sciences and Dean of the Medical School, discuses long-term goals for health sciences facility upgrades at Board of Regents meeting on Wednesday, July 8. The University has been exploring options and setting goals for building upgrades in the health sciences buildings and in Superblock residential halls.

Christopher Aadland

Despite the projected future space needs of the University of MinnesotaâÄôs Academic Health Center, school administrators are moving forward with plans to update the Superblock, the campus housing complex comprised of four residence halls. While modernizing outdated health facilities will need to be addressed in the future, University administrators say the school is better off expanding the dorms âÄî even though medical school leaders say that area would serve as prime real estate for future medical buildings and would assist in AHCâÄôs expansion. Dean of the Medical School Brooks Jackson said most facilities within the Academic Health Center will need to be replaced in the coming decades. He said half of the CenterâÄôs facilities are in poor condition, like the School of Dentistry located in Moos Tower. Others, he said, arenâÄôt aesthetically pleasing. But with the University actively looking to stockpile land for future use, he said heâÄôs comfortable looking for different opportunities, like available land near the under-construction Ambulatory Care Center in Stadium Village and the Biomedical Discovery District, just north of TCF Bank Stadium. Still, some regents have questioned whether it makes financial sense to continue to upgrade the outdated dormitories, especially with the need for better medical facilities. The oldest dorm in the Superblock, Pioneer Hall, was originally built in 1930. Regent Michael Hsu, who lived in the dorm as a University student more than 30 years ago, said the Superblock facilities are outdated and undesired by students, so it doesnâÄôt make sense to continue to pump money into the buildings. But Pamela Wheelock, Vice President for University Services said she feels many of the Superblock facilities are in pretty good shape and are in high demand because of the feeling of community they give to students and their proximity to classrooms. âÄúHousing and the Academic Health Center needs are not in conflict, nor do they ever need to be,âÄù she said at a Board of Regents meeting last week. Updates to the SuperblockâÄôs dining halls and remodeling of Pioneer Hall, which Wheelock said is not laid out well, are planned for the future, but designs arenâÄôt finalized. Regent Thomas Devine said the board is waiting to hear how the administration plans to balance Health Center needs with student housing. Next steps havenâÄôt been officially decided, but Devine said the regents will continue to chart out the UniversityâÄôs housing strategy. He said a housing strategy, which hasnâÄôt been thoroughly reevaluated by regents for the past few years, is important to develop because graduation rates and grades are higher for students who live on campus for at least their first year. âÄúWhat the board has been pushing for is, âÄòWhat are we going to need five, 10 and 15 years out?âÄôâÄù Devine said.