University proposes $234.5 million bonding request

The University is asking the state for $200 million for building repairs and improvements.

by Michael Achterling

The University of Minnesota’s 2018 capital request proposal prioritizes repairs and maintenance over new buildings. 

The proposal, presented at the Sept. 7 Board of Regents meeting, includes a $200 million funding request for Higher Education Asset Preservation and Replacement, a program used to renovate higher education buildings and extend their lifespan.

HEAPR funds are used to address health and safety concerns, update building systems, improve energy efficiency and upgrade utility infrastructure.

Brian Swanson, assistant vice president of finance and strategy for University services, said the school has a “huge” number of buildings approaching 50-years-old.

“When a building gets to about 40- to 50-years-old, that’s when they really start needing some major investment,” he said.

The University is projected to require around $4 billion for maintenance and infrastructure needs over the next 10 years, according to recent estimates by the University’s budget office.

“We are asking for what we need. The current six-year plan that we took to the board puts a much greater emphasis on capital renewal than we have in the past,” Swanson said.

The University requested $100 million in HEAPR funds in 2017, but only received $20.6 million at the end of the Legislature’s special session in May. Around $120 million — less than half of the University’s $245 million bonding request — was granted by the Legislature.

The University’s request for a $22.9 million renovation of Pillsbury Hall was denied last session, so the school is seeking $24 million for the project in 2018. 

Sen. David Senjem, R-Rochester, chair of the Senate capital investment committee, said a backlog of University projects kept the Pillsbury Hall renovation lower on the priority list in previous years.

Senjem said he doesn’t know if the project will be funded in the upcoming session, but added “we’re not going to let [Pillsbury Hall] fall to the ground, and at some point in time, we’re going to fix it up.”

The University proposal also includes a $10.5 million request for Greater Minnesota Academic Renewal — a program which addresses building renovations on the University’s Morris, Crookston and Duluth campuses.

Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, DFL lead of the House capital investment committee, said a larger bonding bill may be necessary to adequately fund higher education projects and the state’s aging infrastructure.

“We have to raise our sights a little bit,” Hausman said.

The state receives an average of $4 billion in bonding requests, she said, while a typical bonding bill usually doesn’t exceed $1 billion. State higher education often receives about a third of that.

Still, Rep. Gene Pelowski, DFL-Winona, DFL lead of the House higher education committee, said the University’s 2018 request is too large to be taken seriously. 

“They’ve approached the legislature with a wish-list, or a want-list, that is so large that almost nobody is going to say, ‘yes,’” Pelowski said. 

The University’s HEAPR request can be misleading, he said, adding that some of the University’s requested renovations are similar in cost to constructing a new building.

The Board of Regents is expected to vote on the proposed 2018 capital request in October.