Funds to fix health buildings

The University’s 2016 capital request includes $66.7 million for renovating health classrooms.

Raju Chaduvula

The University of Minnesota plans to improve existing health buildings or build new ones in an effort to improve education facilities.
As part of the 2016 capital request, school officials plan to ask for $66.7 million from the state Legislature to modernize and expand health sciences classrooms. The University will supply $33.3 million for a total project cost of $100 million. 
Lorelee Wederstrom, director of the Academic Health Center’s Facilities and Capital Planning, said discussions for improving the health education facilities have been underway for many years. 
While there have been improvements and advancements to the research facilities, she said, there have been few upgrades to the educational facilities. Due to changes in teaching methods and techniques, health sciences facilities need to be modernized, she said.
“For example, we still have a large auditorium, and most of our schools now are teaching in small groups, interactive learning and simulations,” Wederstrom said, adding that the existing facilities don’t allow for this kind of teaching.
Jon Christianson, professor of health policy and management at the School of Public Health, said existing facilities — some of which are decades old — aren’t compatible
with technology some instructors use in classes.
“It’s a problem from the standpoint of the students and learning in a modern environment,” he said. 
Better facilities and technologies would attract and retain high-quality faculty and students and allow the University to compete with other schools in health sciences, he said.
Terry Bock, Academic Health Center associate vice president, said due to changes in health care and teaching, it would be hard for the University to compete with other schools if it didn’t renovate existing facilities.
Seventy percent of Minnesota’s health care professionals come from the University, and having facilities that can adapt and change to fit their needs is important, Bock said. 
Monique MacKenzie, director of planning for the school’s Capital Planning and Project Management office, said the project is about improving the education for students.
“A lot of the conversations we’ve had at these early stages are to create spaces that focus on student experience,” she said.
MacKenzie said school leaders are still determining which buildings they want to renovate and if they want to construct new facilities.
The state Legislature will see the plans in March, she said, and if they are approved, designating funds to specific renovations will take at least a year and a half. 
Construction may take up to two years, she said. For new facilities, crews will first tear down old buildings to create space, MacKenzie said.
Wederstrom said she hopes identifying the Univeristy’s needs in terms of renovations will be completed by early January.
The Board of Regents will vote on the capital request, which totals about $236 million, in October.