Budget cuts pose threat

Stephanie Kudrle

It’s one of the newest buildings on Northrop Mall, but Kolthoff Hall was built more than 30 years ago.

And its age is starting to show.

There are no sprinklers or fire walls, and there is

not enough space to accommodate the increasing number of undergraduates who are required to take chemistry, said Wayne Gladfelter, chair of the chemistry department.

Without a state bonding bill this year, renovations such as classroom upgrades, improved ventilation systems and new equipment for laboratories will have to wait at least another two years.

But legislators warned this week that chances for a special session are dwindling, and the University is preparing to bear the burden of funding cuts.

Losing the bonding money would have devastating effects on the University as a whole, University President Bob Bruininks said at a Board of Regents meeting Friday.

At the meeting, the board passed a resolution that would use $44 million of University money to fund projects normally paid for with the help of state aid.

But $44 million is a far cry from the $155.5 million Bruininks requested from the Legislature this year.

Most of the money will go toward the Higher Education Asset Preservation and Replacement fund, but $44 million is not enough to do everything on the list, said University Vice President Kathleen O’Brien.

She said delayed projects will include classroom upgrades for the Academic Health Center, an expansion for the business school and the renovations for Kolthoff Hall.

The chemistry department has requested money for these projects for more than a decade, Gladfelter said.

This year the department asked for $24 million to renovate the aging building, much of which will go toward bringing Kolthoff Hall up to compliance with new fire codes, he said.

Inadequate facilities have also played a role in potential faculty members declining invitations to teach at the University, Gladfelter said.

The chemistry department is not the only part of the University that would feel the effects of a funding cut. Programs on the St. Paul campus are at risk of being closed because of an outdated electrical infrastructure that could lead to power failures, O’Brien said.

The asset preservation fund also would have paid for waterproofing buildings and roof replacement for many older University buildings, she said, which could have prevented rain damage in the future.

Allocating money for the asset preservation fund is part of a state statute to help college institutions maintain their buildings.

The fund can only be used to gain code compliance for health and safety, the Americans with Disabilities Act requirements, air quality improvements and building infrastructure repairs, according to the statute.

Even if a bonding bill is passed in a special session, O’Brien said projects will most likely cost more because of inflation and changes in construction costs.

It will be two years before another bonding bill comes before the Legislature for a vote.

“This is a first. There has always been a bonding bill,” University Chief Financial Officer Richard Pfutzenreuter said.

He said most of the $44 million will come from the University’s repair and replacement fund and local sources, but he hopes legislators will get their terms for a special session straightened out.

Regent Frank Berman spoke about his frustrations with funding cuts at the meeting.

“People of this state don’t understand we are approaching an emergency,” he said. “We’re going to start losing programs the state needs and wants.”

He said salary freezes and tuition hikes are going to drive away key faculty members and bright students.

While Bruininks and other University advocates have stressed that a special session at the Legislature is necessary to keep the University in top shape, only the governor can call a special session.

If a special session is called, the State Senate would work hard to maintain a high level of funding for the University, said Sen. Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis.

“We’ve been encouraging the governor to call a special session,” Pogemiller said. “But the governor wants to do other things.”

Pogemiller said Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Republicans are holding up the decision to have a special session because they want the Senate to vote on a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage in Minnesota, which the Senate Democrats oppose.

He said special sessions sometimes do not get called until fall.

“The sooner we get the bonding bill passed, the better,” Pogemiller said.

But State House Speaker Rep. Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon, said the chances for a special session dwindle every day because Democrats are not being agreeable.

“Senate Democrats simply don’t want to serve the best interest of Minnesota,” he said. “They want to play politics.”