Lawmakers visit campus to assess UMN infrastructure needs

Smith Hall and the Child Development Center were two stops on the tour ahead of the upcoming legislative session.

Students from the University of Minnesota campuses including the Twin Cities, Crookston and Morris gather on the steps for a rally at the Minnesota State Capitol on Wednesday, April 3 as a part of Support the U Day.

Tony Saunders

Students from the University of Minnesota campuses including the Twin Cities, Crookston and Morris gather on the steps for a rally at the Minnesota State Capitol on Wednesday, April 3 as a part of Support the U Day.

Taylor Schroeder

State lawmakers toured campus Tuesday to get a look at the University of Minnesota’s infrastructure needs. 

The University’s capital bonding request, unveiled at the first Board of Regents meeting of the academic year, asks the Legislature for $317.2 million to go toward various projects across University campuses. Bonding money will be allocated during the upcoming legislative session, which begins in February. 

The University’s request includes holdovers from last year when the Legislature did not pass a bonding bill. Bonding bills are typically passed in even-numbered years, although previous odd-numbered years have often seen smaller-funding asks.

Twin Cities campus requests would go toward replacing the Child Development Building, and the Chemistry Undergraduate Teaching Laboratory and designing a new Clinical Research Facility. 

Requests on the Duluth campus would help renovate A.B. Anderson Hall.

“We’re proud to be a leader when it comes to undergraduate education,” said David Blank, head of the chemistry department. “Our department has more members of the Distinguished Academy of Teachers, which is the highest award the overall system gives to teachers than any other department. It also frustrates us because we are limited by our space.”

Of the request, $200 million would also go toward Higher Education Asset Preservation and Replacement projects, which address various maintenance projects across the University system.

Competition for bonding money is high, said DFL House Caucus Committee Administrator Coordinator Jenny Nash. The University was only one stop during the 15 days the House Capital Investment Division has spent touring the state pre-session. 

Current bonding requests from the entire state total about $5.3 billion and more than 300 projects, according to Minnesota Management and Budget. Other projects seeking funding include highway and storm tunnel repairs.

Megan Gunnar, director of the Institute of Child Development, said maintenance issues at the facility can sometimes impair research. For example, electrodes, which are bound to subjects with adhesive to gather data, can begin to slide off of subjects during particularly warm days due to a lack of central cooling in the building. 

This forces researchers with the ICD to move certain projects to other buildings rather than keeping all the research centralized.

In his final proposal in 2018, former Gov. Mark Dayton fully funded the University’s $238.5 million ask and included an additional $60 million. 

But the state only funded about one-third of the University’s request in the final bill. 

“It takes a lot of effort, collaborating with the [House Capital Investment Division] chair and getting on her priority list. It takes a whole team to come up with a bonding package that will pass,” said Rep. Connie Brenardy, DFL-New Brighton, chair of the House higher education committee.