University members provide feedback on St. Paul revamp plan

Some faculty and staff felt left out of the planning process.

Faculty provide input on the future of the St. Paul campus on Friday October 24, 2018 in Ruttan Hall.

Image by Jerusa Nyakundi

Faculty provide input on the future of the St. Paul campus on Friday October 24, 2018 in Ruttan Hall.

by Austen Macalus

During listening sessions about the future of the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul campus, many members expressed support for the University’s plans. However, some faculty and staff said they’ve felt left out of the planning process. 

Last week, the University hosted two community listening sessions for the St. Paul Campus Strategic Facilities Plan, a long-term development plan that started last spring to revamp the campus over the next 30 years. The last session is planned for this Thursday. 

“For a long time people have been talking about, ‘How do we give St. Paul campus some juice?’” said Monique MacKenzie, the University’s director of space management, at a session last week. “It’s always the poor cousin, it’s always in the shadow of Minneapolis.”

MacKenzie said the listening sessions were one of the first engagements on the topic with the community at large. She said the University has worked with individual colleges — including the College of Food, Agriculture and Natural Resource Sciences, the only college housed entirely on the St. Paul campus — to receive feedback on the plan. 

In a University survey of the campus last spring, 40 percent of University staff, students and community members on the St. Paul campus said they were affiliated with CFANS.

Members at the listening session brought up a variety of issues to be addressed, including improving campus life and community engagement in St. Paul, expanding dining options on campus and preserving affordable housing options like the Commonwealth Terrace Cooperative.  

Sally Lightner, a lab coordinator with the College of Veterinary Medicine, said recent outreach efforts targeted at faculty were helpful. Lightner attended the meeting last Wednesday, but she said she would have liked to be more involved in the process, a concern echoed by other faculty and staff on the St. Paul campus.  

“Aside from the surveys, there really hasn’t been any more opportunities that I know of,” she said. 

One of Lightner’s main concerns is the outdated classrooms on campus, which she called “not conducive for learning.” 

Approximately 59 percent of St. Paul campus space is in poor or critical condition, according to the University’s capital project management team. The campus is projected to need around $951 million of investments in the next 10 years.  

“It’s a campus that has not been invested in in terms of its physical facilities, and those of you who work here know that every day,” MacKenzie said at the meeting. 

The strategic plan hopes to address this issue, calling for renovations to old building; updates to classrooms, labs and research spaces; and adding more active learning classrooms, which many faculty and staff expressed support for at the meeting. 

“I’m glad they’re putting energy toward spiffing this place up,” she said. “Because [the campus] needs it.” 

Julie Grossman, a professor of horticultural science, would like to see more space for collaboration between researchers on campus, an issue that strategic plan addresses. 

Goose filled out a survey on research collaboration last spring, but she’s hoping for more engagement with University members throughout the planning process. 

“I would have like to have seen [the plan] involve faculty in a bigger way, a more intentional way,” she said. “This is the point when more voices need to be brought in, especially from faculty, beyond just a survey.”

MacKenzie said that there will be more outreach efforts as renovations come closer to fruition. The finalized plan is expected to be completed in December and presented to the Board of Regents in February, but actual construction won’t take place for another several years. 

“We [typically] have very deep engagement for the people in the building and colleges involved,” as well as community members, MacKenzie said of past capital management projects at the University. She expects engagement will continue as plans for St. Paul move along. 

At the meeting last Wednesday, MacKenzie stressed the long-term nature of the plan. 

“The importance of a framework plan … is to set up objectives, to set up values and to give us a course,” MacKenzie said.

Correction: A previous version of this article misrepresented the University’s survey of the St. Paul campus last spring. Forty percent of University staff, students and community members on the St. Paul campus that took the survey said they were affiliated with CFANS.