Bonding bill comes up short of requests

Jim Hammerand

The Science Classroom Building will be sticking around campus, as the state Legislature rejected $40 million for improvements but accepted $116 million for other University projects.

Both chambers of the Legislature passed a billion-dollar state bonding bill early Sunday morning, but did not approve funding to replace the aging Science Classroom Building. Lawmakers ended up borrowing less for the University than either chamber or the governor had recommended.

The bill allows the state to take on nearly $116 million in debt to maintain and improve statewide University infrastructure, not including hundreds of millions of dollars for other Minnesota projects. The University requested $206.1 million.

The Senate passed the bill by a 60-6 vote, and the House by a 111-21 vote.

Several high-profile University projects got a legislative green light with full funding. Lawmakers approved $40 million for a medical biosciences building, $26.6 million to expand the Carlson School of Management and $15.3 million for a new business school at the University’s Duluth campus.

But the Legislature did not allocate a single dollar for a proposed $62 million science and student services center, $41.3 million of which would have been covered by the state.

“That was probably the major disappointment,” said University President Bob Bruininks.

The building would have replaced the Science Classroom Building on the East Bank of the Minneapolis campus with a central center for advising, financial aid, registration and other student services. The building also would have had four science demonstration halls with better accessibility.

University officials said they hope the medical biosciences building will keep the University’s medical research program competitive. The building will have lab space and offices. The labs will be used for handling infectious diseases that can cause serious harm.

Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon, Senate Capital Investment committee chairman, said the University’s muddy priorities made it a tough decision.

“We were kind of trying to pin (the University) down; they basically said they had to defer to their students, but yet when you talk behind the scenes about the medical technology building, then, boy, that was the most important thing in the world,” Langseth said.

The University received $30 million for asset renovation and preservation projects, $50 million less than it requested.

The University will expand the Carlson School to the area just south of the main building allowing for a 50 percent increase in undergraduate admissions. Construction is to begin in the fall.

The Gophers stadium bill, which borrowed $137 million for an on-campus University stadium, had a small effect on the bonding bill, Langseth said.

“If it wasn’t for that commitment, I would guess the ‘U’ would have got a little bit more,” Langseth said.

Rep. Tim Mahoney, DFL-St. Paul, blasted the bill before voting against it, saying it didn’t do anything for metro areas.

“This is a terrible bill for the capital city and it’s not much better for my sister city across the river,” Mahoney said.

Rep. Bud Nornes, R-Fergus Falls, who served on the capital investment conference committee, disagreed.

“I think it’s very good for the state of Minnesota, overall,” Nornes said.

Lawmakers allocated $2.5 million to research renewable energy sources at the West Regional Outreach Center in Morris.

The bill also borrows $500,000 to house students and faculty at the Cedar Creek Natural History area in East Bethel and another $500,000 to build an addition to the Cloquet Forestry Center.

Legislators gave $300,000 to the University to renovate the Veterinary School’s Poultry Testing Lab in Willmar, a project not on the University’s capital request.

Rep. Al Juhnke, DFL-Willmar, said the renovations are necessary to ensure fast and efficient testing of domestic flocks for avian flu.

“Minnesota, and probably the Willmar area, is ground zero for poultry production,” Juhnke said. “That laboratory does all the blood sampling in the majority of the poultry flocks in the state. We found out at the eleventh hour that we needed this project, and on behalf of (the University) I put it forward.”

Most students interviewed were indifferent to the bill, but German studies senior Amy Dvergsdal said the University should focus less on new research and more on undergraduate programs.

“We’re building up research while tuition should be more affordable,” Dvergsdal said.