University’s HEAPR request highlights infrastructure needs

The University will prioritize its capital needs as lawmakers decide on a final allocation.

Madeline Deninger

The University of Minnesota is hoping to receive full funding for its 2018 capital request, but is prepared to prioritize critical projects if the final bill falls short. 

The University of Minnesota’s Higher Education Asset Preservation and Replacement request, which aims to restore the University’s current infrastructure, is the primary aspect of its capital bonding bill this year. This focus on renewal has drawn support from lawmakers, but past years have seen the University receive only partial funding for its requests.  

This year’s HEAPR request of $200 million would begin to address the University’s $4.2 billion in deferred maintenance over the next ten years, which would repair existing buildings on all of the University system campuses.

Mike Berthelsen, vice president of University Services, said the University is optimistic about the upcoming bill, but understands the University may not receive its request in full. 

“It’s not unique to the University that we typically have not gotten 100 percent of what we ask for, but I think the University has had a very high success rate from the state with regards to support for our capital needs,” Berthelsen said. “I haven’t heard anybody criticize the content of the request at all, it’s only a concern of how large the bill should be in total.” 

He said the University is prepared to present a prioritized list of projects to the Legislature for any given amount. 

Factors like risk assessment, how critical a building’s condition is and compliance with regulatory codes help the University prioritize its projects, Berthelsen said. 

While some buildings on campus only need funding for one HEAPR project, other buildings require a long list of improvements.

As an example, Berthelsen pointed to the Andrew C. Boss Laboratory of Meat Science in St. Paul, which needs updated fire safety features, a new HVAC system and accessibility updates, totaling around $8 million in upgrades.  

Other updates could include making restrooms disability accessible across the University’s campuses, including seven locations on the Twin Cities campus. 

“We want the campus to be accessible and welcoming to everyone, regardless of their condition or capacities,” Berthelsen said. 

Governor Mark Dayton recommended $50 million more in HEAPR than the University requested, though some lawmakers believe it is unlikely the state’s bonding bill will reach Dayton’s full $1.5 billion recommendation. 

“The problem becomes about the the size of the bill because then you’re looking at a Republican majority and how big of a bill they’ll ultimately support,” said Rep. Gene Pelowski, DFL-Winona. “This is going to have to be bipartisan, but [Republicans are] going to have to be the ones saying this is the target number.”

Larry Jacobs, professor of political science at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, said the University was smart to market its capital request as a move to renew existing buildings, but the dynamic between the Legislature and University, along with the size of the bill, may limit how much funding the University receives. 

“I know the University has been working very hard with Matt Kramer leading the charge,” he said. Matt Kramer is the vice president of University Relations. “The question is, how far can that coalition go facing Republican Party leadership and limits put on spending?”