U seeks ways to improve space on campus

Each year, the U looks to increase space efficiency.

Taryn Wobbema

Occupying 29 million gross square feet across five campuses and 18 research and outreach centers, the University of Minnesota spends an average of $83 million each year maintaining its facilities. While the state consistently attends to campus facilities through the capital bonding bill, the needs always exceed available funding, Associate Vice President of Facilities Management Mike Berthelsen said at the September Board of Regents Facilities Committee meeting. While constructing new space whenever a need arises is ideal, Berthelsen said the University tries to better utilize its current space if possible. With a shortage of funds, itâÄôs best to find ways to work with the space already available, he said. In the state bonding bill, passed through the Legislature every other year, the University receives money for specific projects as well as broad building repairs, called Higher Education Asset Preservation and Replacement (HEAPR) funding. Over the years, the state has consistently given less for HEAPR than requested. In 2002, the University requested about $80 million for HEAPR, but the Legislature only provided $35 million. Since then, requests have continued to increase while actual funding has remained stagnant. The 2009 facilities condition assessment âÄî a yearly report put together to inform the regents of the current state of buildings in the University system âÄî estimated the funding needed to maintain the condition of the campus for one year at $160 million . Based on the average of the budgets over the last four years, actual facility funding reaches $83 million each year, the assessment stated. Funding needs for facility projects, ranging from fixing roofs to increasing energy efficiency, are calculated by hired inspectors who evaluate buildings on each University campus, generate a list of repairs that will be needed in the foreseeable future âÄî about 10 years âÄî and rank their priority. Once the Legislature determines how much HEAPR money to give, the University has to determine which projects are most urgent. The University pursues several strategies to improve the condition of its aged, sometimes inadequate, facilities. Space is constantly evaluated based on the needs of programs, faculty and research, Berthelsen said. The University considers renovation, demolition, construction and better utilization with each project to determine which avenue will be most cost efficient. âÄúWeâÄôre always looking for how we can use [a] project to improve space utilization,âÄù Berthelsen said. Scheduling classes at maximum occupancies to lessen the number of classrooms needed, opening up research space for more flexible scheduling and using one new building project as a starting point for a series of renovations are all ways the University is trying to improve its use of space. Terry Bock, associate vice president for the Academic Health Center , said the process of opening up remodeled research labs began about 10 years ago as a means to increase space efficiency. The construction of new space, such as the Molecular and Cellular Biology building, has allowed the Medical Schoo l to âÄúkeep learning and reducing the amount of space per faculty researcher,âÄù Bock said. When the extent of renovation required is too expensive, a new project might be most feasible, Berthelsen said. Funds for a new physics and nanotechnology building will be requested from the state next session because the Tate Lab of Physics is too outdated. âÄúThe size and volume of the condition need is so great, there is no partial solution to solve the existing Tate physics building,âÄù Berthelsen said. Mos Kaveh, associate dean of research and planning in the Institute of Technology , said the new research space offered by the planned physics and nanotechnology building will open Tate for renovations that would make it better suited for Institute of Technology classroom space. By consolidating their space, it will free up other areas of campus for use by programs outside the college. Both Kaveh and Bock said their schools always require new or expanded spaces. Berthelsen said no one way is sufficient when dealing with the use of space on campus. âÄúThis is an issue where we have to work on all of them at the same time,âÄù he said.