Capital plan moves forward despite state cuts

The Regents will discuss the plan at the June 14 meeting.

Janice Bitters

University of Minnesota administrators are adjusting their six-year capital improvement plan after facing cuts from the Legislature.

Nearly two-thirds of the funding for the plan that comes from the Legislature was rejected last month. The plan, which will be discussed at a June Board of Regents meeting, is awaiting approval from the University regents.

Because of the lack of state funding, much of the work originally planned would need to be deferred, said Monique MacKenzie, departmental director for Capital Planning and Project Management.

But some construction will still move forward.

Under the current plan, MacKenzie said students on the Twin Cities campus would likely notice more classroom sharing and changes to buildings near Pleasant Street next year.

The primary goals of the capital plan include updating laboratory space, consolidating classrooms and buildings and creating more active learning environments.

Tate Laboratory

One of the largest renovations highlighted on the plan is to the Tate Laboratory of Physics, which earth sciences professor Peter Hudleston said will be a welcome change.

Research needs have changed over time, he said, leaving some laboratories outdated and scattered to six different buildings around campus.

“The needs of the department … cannot be met by the labs in Pillsbury Hall, which is part of the reason we have labs in different buildings,” he said.

Hudleston said the department eventually plans to consolidate into just Tate.

Among the departments that will share the rehabilitated Tate Laboratory will be the School of Physics and Astronomy, which physics professor Joe Kapusta said will allow for important collaboration.

“I think it could be very interesting to have this broad spectrum [of departments],” he said. “… We go from the stars all the way to the earth. It’s a nice, broad continuum.”

Kapusta said he’s also looking forward to lab space that’s designed for more modern research.

“The [Tate] labs were designed for experiments in the 1930s or 1950s, and we are now well into the 21st century,” he said. “The environment in the lab is nowhere near what you would see in a modern industry.”

MacKenzie said students will see many classes move out of Tate and into the Physics and Nanotechnology Building in 2014 in preparation for the renovation.

Sharing spaces

The University will also begin encouraging different departments to share classrooms and labs. MacKenzie said space sharing will build support systems for departments and save money.

On the St. Paul campus, the colleges of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences, Veterinary Medicine and Biological Sciences are planning to share lab space in a new building, making current research labs “obsolete,” according to the capital improvement plan.

“The deans have agreed it’s important to create what we call a thematic building,” MacKenzie said. “[The space] is focused on the practice of a certain field of science that researchers from all those colleges can share.”

Others around campus have expressed interest in sharing classroom space in the future, including the Department of Psychology and the Institute of Child Development, MacKenzie said. In the future, the two departments may replace the buildings they’re currently using with a shared one.

MacKenzie said the consolidations are necessary to accommodate changing department needs and the large student population on campus.

“If we went about building a campus today that would serve 50,000 people, it would not look anything like how [the University] does,” MacKenzie said.

Russian studies senior Meredith Gulsvig said while she likes the renovated buildings on campus, she would miss ones.

“I like how sitting on the mall, looking out, now you can see all the old structures of the buildings,” she said. “I think that is super cool.”

Gulsvig said the changes could also impact the culture of the University in the future.

“Changes make it look fresher, but it’s going to draw different kinds of students no matter what,” she said.

Active learning classrooms

Another major component of the capital improvement plan is to incorporate more active learning classrooms.

Active learning classrooms — like those in the Science Teaching and Student Services building — bring technology into the classroom with computers and TV screens and generally offer shared round tables for students.

Though funding for active classrooms is limited, MacKenzie said the University will continue to look for ways to place more of them on all University campuses. In addition, she said the University plans to ask for state funding for the classrooms in the future.

“It’s clear to the academic side that there are huge gains to be had from reconfiguring spaces to an active learning format,” she said. “We are trying to balance out our multiple funding sources and timelines.”