Regents give nod to biennial capital request

Erin Ghere

The University completed the first steps of a yearlong funding process Friday when the Board of Regents approved the University’s capital request. The request will be submitted to the state Legislature later this month, with legislators deciding on the final allocation in late May.
The University is seeking $134.3 million from the Legislature, primarily for structural improvements on all four University campuses. The University will contribute an additional $59.5 million to the projects through fund-raising and bonding programs.
Highlights of the request include $35 million for a Molecular and Cellular Biology Building, $21 million for infrastructure repairs to the Art Building and $16 million to bring all University buildings up to safety and health codes.
“I think if you look across our request, it goes pretty much down the center of our priorities,” said University President Mark Yudof.
The Board of Regents approved the capital budget request at their monthly meeting Friday without much discussion.
“The major goals are to continue to preserve our current buildings and capital investments at the University,” said Bob Bruininks, University vice president and provost.
Every odd-numbered year, the University makes a capital request, asking the Legislature for money to improve the four University campuses, focusing on infrastructure and basic health and safety issues.
Every even-numbered year, officials request legislative funding to supplement the University’s operating budget, focusing on technology, academic and library initiatives.

The request
The University’s primary academic goals in the 2000 capital request are for scientific research and outreach, Bruininks said.
University officials are seeking funds for 10 major projects to be completed in the next two years:
ù Officials are requesting $16 million to bring University buildings up to code.
If the allocation is approved, the University will begin correcting fire- and life-safety code deficiencies, making campus buildings more accessible, improving indoor air quality and removing hazardous materials — including asbestos.
“The request addresses serious safety issues,” Bruininks added.
ù The University will break ground on the new Molecular and Cellular Biology Building in late October but will not be able to put a roof on it until the Legislature allocates money for the project.
The University is requesting $35 million to complete the construction and equip the building for student and faculty use. Construction is scheduled to be completed in winter 2002.
ù University officials are also requesting $21 million to construct a new West Bank art building to replace the obsolete Studio Arts Building.
The University will pick up the rest of the tab, an additional $23 million, for the building that Bruininks said is “desperately needed.”
ù With the help of a $10 million donation by Cargill made in early September, the University will embark on the construction of a new microbial and plant genomics building and is requesting another $10 million from the Legislature to complete the job.
The building will be located on the St. Paul campus.
ù Following the same path, the University is requesting $17.1 million from the Legislature for renovation of the University’s plant-growth facilities.
The renovations will cost as much as a new building would, according to the request, and would include bringing the existing greenhouses into compliance with current state laws regarding pesticide and fertilizer use.
ù In a move to improve the University’s research facilities, officials are requesting $4 million to construct five research and outreach centers in Waseca, Cloquet, Crookston, Grand Rapids and at Itasca State Park.
These centers would support University research in areas ranging from swine health to forest genetics. Yudof said the research stations are “great jewels of the University.”
The University is also requesting:
ù $6.1 million to build a new music performance laboratory on the Duluth campus,
ù $6.5 million to renovate a fine arts building on the Crookston campus,
ù $8.2 million to begin the second part of a Science and Math Project renovation on the Morris campus, and
ù $10.4 million for a new women’s hockey sports center on the Duluth campus.
The infrastructure improvements will enhance the economy and culture on the University campuses and their surrounding communities, Bruininks said.
Underlying initiatives
The capital request reflects underlying University goals in biology, undergraduate education and the University infrastructure:
ù Through the biology initiative, five new departments — in biochemistry; molecular biology and biophysics; neuroscience; genetics, cell biology and development; and plant biology — are being created.
Other biology goals include strengthening the basic cellular and molecular biology program and linking University departments, centers and programs.
“Obviously, we’re requesting a lot of money,” Yudof said. “But we have to be a player in biosciences.”
With legislative funding toward the new buildings and other projects, the University will still be competitive in 20 years, he said.
ù Expanding freshman seminars leads the University’s goals for undergraduate education.
The University’s main objective is “to provide the state’s most talented students with the highest quality undergraduate experience and to incorporate the unique resources of a great research institution into its undergraduate offerings,” according to the capital request.
University officials also plan to expand the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program, increase technology-enhanced learning and expand the University’s study abroad program.
ù Finally, the University’s capital request would re-infuse the University infrastructure, especially its buildings.
“The infrastructure of a University campus is a critical component and supports the visible and attractive teaching and research,” according to the University’s capital request.
The future
The final capital request will be submitted to Gov. Jesse Ventura and the state Legislature later this month.
“I think we’ll get a strong reaction to the University’s request,” Bruininks said. “It’s a good, strong statement of the University’s needs.”
The request outlines for legislators areas where the state’s money has served its purpose, including the soon-to-begin construction of the Molecular and Cellular Biology Building and the renovation of Ford and Murphy halls to create a new media center.
At Friday’s regents meeting, University President Mark Yudof said the University’s recent settlement with the Glaxo Wellcome pharmaceutical manufacturer proves that Legislature investments in the University pay off.
He said the state’s allocations helped Dr. Robert Vince, inventor of the anti-HIV drug Ziagen, create the product.
“Try to find an investment anywhere else that has this kind of payoff,” he said. The University announced an estimated $300 million settlement with the pharmaceutical company Tuesday.

— Staff Reporter Kristin Gustafson contributed this report.

Erin Ghere covers faculty and the state Legislature and welcomes comments at [email protected] She can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3217.