Bonding bill funds some U projects, leaves others behind

The University received about half of bonding request from State Legislature.

by Christopher Lemke

The University of Minnesota will start work on three new buildings and a host of maintenance projects with funding approved by Gov. Mark Dayton in the state bonding bill.

The University received $119.9 million of its $245.1 million request, and the current funding serves four of the seven projects in the school’s 2017 Capital Request.

“The bonding bill was a really strong recognition from the state of Minnesota on the value-add that we create state wide. I couldn’t be more excited,” said Matt Kramer, the University’s vice president for government relations.

The funding will go toward creating new plant research and health sciences buildings at the University’s Twin Cities campus as well as a new chemistry building on the Duluth campus.

All University campuses will get money for building maintenance and repairs.

In a press release, University President Eric Kaler thanked the state Legislature for the funding it provided, adding it has “shown its support for our research endeavors that enrich the economic wellbeing of Minnesota.”

Health Sciences

The new Health Sciences Education Facility on the Twin Cities campus will bring the health sciences schools under one roof, instead of spread out in several buildings like they are now, said Mark Rosenberg, vice dean for education at the University Medical School.

The new building, with $66.6 million in state funding, will feature smaller classrooms instead of lecture “amphitheaters,” reflecting new trends in healthcare education, Rosenberg said.

“We already do a fair amount of simulation, but the capacity to do this is limited,” Rosenberg said of current medical buildings.

The University trains 70 percent of healthcare professionals in the state, Rosenberg said. “If we can train them in new ways, it will impact all parts of the state.”

The building will also feature lounge space for students to relax and network with other health professionals, Rosenberg said.

Duluth’s Chemistry Building

The state allocated $28.3 million for a new chemistry and advanced materials science building to house all chemistry classes on the Duluth campus.

The current building, finished in 1949, originally held 30 chemistry students but now houses 450, said Josh Hamilton, biology professor and dean of Duluth’s science and engineering department.

“It served us well,” Hamilton said, adding the building outlived its lifespan and can no longer serve the 5,500 major and non-major students there.

Like the health science facilities building, Duluth’s new building will also reflect modern approaches to teaching chemistry, Hamilton said.

“We purposefully made what we call ‘neighborhoods,’ where on each floor there’s a mix of teaching labs, research labs, faculty spaces and student spaces, so that there’s an intermingling of all these things all day long,” Hamilton said.

University maintenance

The University’s Higher Education Asset Preservation and Replacement project, focused on system wide infrastructure maintenance and system repairs, received the lowest amount of funding — receiving $20.6 million, or about a fifth of the requested allocation.

The project helps fund “all the things that allow a program to function efficiently,” like windows, electrical systems, fire sprinklers, disability access projects and steam distribution tunnels, said Brian Swanson, assistant vice president in University Services.

Maintaining elevators will be one of the University’s priorities with this session’s funds, Swanson said.

The project is difficult to fund because it’s unexciting, Kramer previously told the Daily.

Plant Science Research

A new plant growth research facility, with $4.4 million in state funding, will be home for the University’s collection of rare, unusual and endangered plant species.

Built in 1974, the current building has a 20-year lifespan and has the largest carbon footprint on the St. Paul campus, said Lisa Philander, curator of the plant collections. The foundation of the building is sinking and the frame of the building shifts, she said.

The new building was originally requested in the 2002 bonding bill, and it was requested again in the years 2014 through 2017.

The new facility’s rooms will be purpose-built to help plant growth, Philander said.

Unfunded projects

Three of the University’s projects did not receive any funding.

The University did not get any of the $22.9 million it requested from the state to renovate Pillsbury Hall, which would serve as the English department’s headquarters.

“Because it’s plausible that we will advocate for Pillsbury funding in the 2018 session, it’s premature at this point for any project leaders to comment on the status of the project or the future of the building,” said University spokesperson Emmalynn Bauer.

Andrew Elfenbein, chair of the University’s English department, said in an email that even though Pillsbury renovation wasn’t funded, the project is in good standing to request money again for next year.

“Now that some of those requests have been funded, I hope that Pillsbury will move up the list to be in a good position for next year,” Elfenbein said in the email.

The Academic and Student Experience Investments, designed to “modernize teaching, research, outreach, and student support spaces” at University campuses, requested $16 million from the state, but received none.

Design: Collections and Contemporary Learning did not get its requested $4 million in state funding that would have gone toward projects dealing with leaning and research spaces at libraries, as well as digital media initiatives.