U fights for upkeep money

by Lora Pabst

Leaky roofs and old windows are a natural part of aging buildings, but University officials say paying for their repair in campus buildings should be a natural part of the state government’s job.

The University’s Higher Education Asset Preservation and Replacement projects include roof repairs, elevator projects, window replacements, sprinkler systems and classroom improvements on all University campuses.

However, Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s recommendation for the 2006 bonding bill includes only half of the $80 million the University requested for these smaller projects.

If the state Legislature approves the total $80 million HEAPR request, the money will go to approximately 150 projects throughout the University system.

These could include exterior upgrades for Folwell and Pillsbury halls and electrical work at the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs building. The total number of projects depends on the final funding from the state Legislature.

University Chief Financial Officer Richard Pfutzenreuter said projects are considered for HEAPR funding based on a facility-condition assessment.

“We have a group of independent inspectors walk through all of our buildings,” he said. They consider the buildings’ age, visual condition and type of use.

Unlike the construction of new buildings, HEAPR projects are often less visible to the majority of the University community.

“It’s always a struggle because the projects themselves are just not very glamorous,” Pfutzenreuter said.

If legislators fund the HEAPR projects, they still are making progress, he said.

“It’s not that (legislators) ignore it. It’s not that they don’t see it of value. It’s just a difficult thing to fund,” Pfutzenreuter said. “The Legislature prefers to do things they can get a photo (opportunity out) of.”

Pfutzenreuter said HEAPR requests usually are not fully funded by the state Legislature.

House Capital Investment Committee Chairman Dan Dorman, R-Albert Lea, said legislators want to see physical results from the HEAPR funding.

“It’s important to get out and take a look at some of the (projects),” he said. “You really get a better feel for what’s going on. You know that your money’s being well spent and they’re being good stewards of it.”

Thursday members of the Senate Capital Investment Committee will tour campus to see some of the projects HEAPR money possibly will fund.

Donna Peterson, associate vice president for government and community relations, said having legislators on campus will “show them the needs here.”

Pfutzenreuter said he will try to show legislators the “behind-the-wall projects” that need to be completed.

“We try to sneak them in and get them captured to see these projects, so they get a sense of what kind of shape things are in,” he said.

If you work or study in the building and it’s not getting fixed, the problems are pretty obvious, Peterson said.

“We try to put it into context, like someone’s home,” she said.

Kathleen O’Brien, vice president of University Services, said if the University doesn’t receive the $80 million from the state Legislature, it will rely on previous HEAPR funding and other University funds to complete more than $250 million in prospective projects.

“We will complete as many projects as we can based on how critical the need is,” she said. “We might choose roof or window repairs first because if we don’t do it, there would be additional deterioration.”

Bryce Haugen contributed to this article.