Building funds forecasted

The University might get its full request for repairs, but not for other projects.

Courtney Blanchard

For the first time in more than 10 years, the University might get its full request from the Legislature to repair leaky roofs and crumbling buildings.

The House Capital Investment Finance Division Committee passed a bonding bill Tuesday that includes $22 million for building repairs and $14.4 million to renovate the old Minnesota Department of Health building for a bioscience facility for the University.

The bill didn’t include money for the Biomedical Sciences Research Authority project, which would have given the University money to build five new bioscience facilities over 10 years.

Committee chair Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, said the committee had to work with a low budget – $135 million compared to the previous year’s $1 billion budget.

“A bill like this is very painful to write,” she said. “In a year like this, one can do very little.”

Despite having to give many projects the short end of the stick, Hausman said she made sure the University received its full request for maintenance and repairs.

Mike Berthelsen, associate vice president for facilities management, said he can’t remember the Legislature ever granting a full request for maintenance in the 14 years that he has worked at the University.

“We’re hopeful, but until it actually happens, we won’t count on it,” he said.

The money granted to the University will be used throughout the system, but the majority will be targeted at the Twin Cities campus for repairs on things like water damage, broken elevators and fire alarm systems, Berthelsen said.

The plaza on the West Bank that spans over Washington Avenue, Anderson Hall and the old bookstore, for example, needs to be replaced because of water damage below the surface.

If the University doesn’t receive full funding for repairs, Berthelsen said projects will have to be prioritized.

“We’ll do repairs as long as possible, until we can do a replacement,” he said. “If we continue to do repairs, ultimately we’ll pay more.”

One controversial aspect of the House bonding bill this year is the rejection of funding for the Biomedical Sciences Research Authority.

The committee did grant $14.4 million to renovate the old Minnesota Department of Health Building, $1.8 million short of the request for the project.

Even with funding for that particular project, University Chief Financial Officer Richard Pfutzenreuter said the delay in funding for the Biomedical Sciences Research Authority will put the University behind in its strategic planning process.

“Our plan is to … talk to faculty across the country and tell them: ‘Come to Minnesota in 2009, because we have a building already authorized,’ ” he said.

Pfutzenreuter said without the ability to plan ahead, the University will fall behind on recruiting for the new bioscience facilities because it often takes several years to secure highly qualified faculty members.

Still, the Senate hasn’t scrapped funding for the project, and University officials will watch to see what happens in the coming weeks.

“We’re not giving up on it,” he said. “We’re still hopeful that the Senate, as they have in the past, sees the wisdom of this proposal.”

The bonding bill lumps funding for various projects throughout the state together, allowing the state to incur debt through the sale of bonds.

The bill also includes projects such as repairs for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, a property extension for Bemidji State University and several transit projects including $30 million for the Central Corridor Transit Way, the light-rail line that will run down University Avenue through campus.

The bill will probably come to a House floor vote sometime next week, Hausman said.

Then, the Senate will have to pass its version and work with the House to finalize the bill to be signed into law by Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty.