Regents to vote on six-year of capital projects

The Board will vote Thursday and Friday on a plan to fund renovations and expansion of health sciences and agricultural research, among other things.

Kevin Beckman

The University of Minnesota’s Board of Regents will vote Friday on approval of a $1.6 billion plan to fund capital projects across the system over six years.

Under the plan, the University would foot 22.3 percent of the bill and the state would provide 77.7 percent — just over $1.2 billion.

In keeping with the University’s Medical School and agricultural research priorities, the proposal would put $274 million toward the renovation and expansion of medical and health science facilities. Additionally, over $127.9 million would be allocated to construct and upgrade research and laboratory space for the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences and the College of Biological Sciences.

“When [regents] talk about advancing the standing of the Academic Health Center and health sciences, it’s one of the significant themes,” said Interim Vice President of University Services Mike Berthelsen. “The Board has been consistent in making sure the projects we’re advancing meet both the facilities’ need, but are also advancing the academic and institutional priorities.”

The plan also asks the state to fund $550 million for Higher Education Asset Preservation and Renovation (HEAPR) to fix deteriorating infrastructure across coordinate campuses.

Berthelsen said each year, vice presidents, chancellors and deans prioritize facilities projects for improvement.

Administrators assess the projects’ costs by reviewing state economic forecasts and financial reports to shape the size of the plan compared to the state’s bonding bill.

“We just try to get a size and scope and order of magnitude,” Berthelsen said. “How much can the University afford, what are its priorities and what makes sense for a physical solution?”

Occasionally, Berthelsen said, the University will pay for an entire project rather than request funds from the state, though the current six-year plan only lists one such project — a $9.5 million upgrade to public safety facilities.

The University requests that the state pay for two-thirds of all projects except HEAPR, which is fully funded by the state.

Interim Vice President and CFO Mike Volna said that due to the legislature’s failure to pass a bonding bill last session, the University’s 2017 capital request is the same as last year but updated for inflation.

“It essentially pushed back everything in our capital plan by one year,” Volna said, adding that operating budgets are less affected because biennial budget requests come from different state funding mechanisms.

Regent Richard Beeson, chair of the board’s Finance Committee, said regents and school administrators are spending more time on long-range financial planning to ensure efficiency in University spending.

“Money is an issue, and it’s always been an issue,” he said.

The long-term plan is updated every year depending on changes in project design and market fluctuations, Berthelsen said.