Without state funding Pillsbury Hall could close, UMN officials say

Pillsbury Hall is in danger of being shuttered as early as this fall if state lawmakers don’t fund a proposed renovation.

Pillsbury Hall as seen on Sept. 16, 2015. The building, which is the oldest building on campus, is in need of renovations.

Daily File Photo

Pillsbury Hall as seen on Sept. 16, 2015. The building, which is the oldest building on campus, is in need of renovations.

by Ryan Faircloth

Without state funding, Pillsbury Hall — a historic University of Minnesota building — is in danger of being shuttered.

University officials are asking the state for roughly $23 million to renovate Pillsbury Hall, the second-oldest building on campus. Once renovated, the building would house the school’s English department, which currently shares space in Lind Hall with the engineering department. But if funding isn’t given this session, the hall may close indefinitely later this year.

Pillsbury Hall will be completely empty when the University’s earth sciences department moves into the newly-revamped Tate Laboratory of Physics this fall, said Mike Berthelsen, interim vice president for University services.

“We have a building that will be empty, and that’s the perfect time to renovate it,” he said.

Any further delays to the renovation will only add to its cost, said Sen. Kari Dziedzic, DFL-Minneapolis.

Dziedzic, whose district covers the University, said she’s heard complaints from English students about the inadequacy of the current space.

The department’s location in Lind Hall is also inaccessible because professors are scattered across three floors, said Andrew Elfenbein, chair of the University’s English department.

“We want a space where students will be able to find us so they can talk to us,” he said.

Lind Hall’s first and fourth floors were renovated a few years ago, Elfenbein said, but the second and third floors are still in bad shape.

“Lind Hall now belongs to the cockroaches and the wasps,” he said.

Students also have no common areas where they can discuss their studies, Elfenbein said, which a renovated Pillsbury Hall would provide. The renovation would also include a “lecture performance space” where students could stage performances, conduct readings and hold meetings, he said.

The engineering department could also use the extra space the English department now holds in Lind Hall, Elfenbein said, making a renovation helpful to both departments.

Departments need spaces “that have their own signature” to them, said University Regent Richard Beeson.

“When departments are located in multiple buildings, I think there’s a missed opportunity around communication,” Beeson said.

But a potential renovation depends on whether the legislature passes a bonding bill this session, he said.

Lawmakers failed to pass a bonding package last year that included funds for some of the University’s top capital requests, Dziedzic said, which would’ve brought Pillsbury Hall’s renovation near the top of this session’s priorities.

Dziedzic introduced a bill last week calling for state bonding funds for the renovation. Still, she said she’s unsure the project will get funded this year.

Elfenbein said he’s worried about “long postponement” of the renovation and the effect it could have on the condition of the building.

“It’s not good for buildings to sit empty because it’s important that the systems in them be used,” he said. “Otherwise, they fall apart.”

Nevertheless, Beeson and Berthelsen said there are no backup plans to fund the refurbishment.

“If the state doesn’t fund it, I don’t see the path in the near term,” Beeson said.