State funding could help UMN tackle backlog of infrastructure improvements

The University will prioritize its infrastructure needs depending on the size of the state allotment this legislative session.

Malcolm Moos Health Sciences Tower is seen in Minneapolis on Friday, Jan. 25.

Jasmin Kemp

Malcolm Moos Health Sciences Tower is seen in Minneapolis on Friday, Jan. 25.

Isabella Murray

The University of Minnesota is seeking support from the Legislature to begin chipping away at its $4.5 billion backlog of infrastructure needs over the next 10 years. 

The University’s $200 million Higher Education Asset Preservation and Replacement request to update and restore the University’s current infrastructure is part of its $232.3 million 2019 capital request. Without funding the full HEAPR request, the school’s backlog will continue to grow. Officials say a full HEAPR request is unlikely, meaning the University needs to prioritize campus needs depending on the eventual allocation. 

“Now, we never actually are going to get that much money,” said Assistant Vice President of University Services Brian Swanson. “And then we do smaller scale projects, where you go in and you fix the roof, or you put in a fire sprinkler or you upgrade the fire alarm. That’s a lot of what HEAPR really does are these little projects.” 

Swanson said allocated funds will be distributed across system campuses by using a formula based on size and conditions of the campus. Each campus then determines their own priorities. 

Project priorities shift based on the severity of a building’s condition and the size of the state allocation. 

Certain projects can only be completed when a large amount of money is allotted, while smaller initiatives take priority with less funding. 

“Our priorities sort of shift. If we got the full $200 million, on the Twin Cities campus, we would tackle some fairly large projects,” Swanson said. 

If all or the majority of $200 million is received, the third phase of a renovation to the Mechanical Engineering building would be high on the priority list on the Twin Cities campus. The project is currently priced at around $13 million. 

The Food Science and Nutrition building, with $15 million in estimated repairs, could also see improvements with a larger fulfillment of the request.  

Since 2000, the state has provide the University more than $400 million in HEAPR funds. 

The Andrew C. Boss Laboratory of Meat Science on the St. Paul campus recently benefited from HEAPR allocations. The entire renovation project will total $12.6 million, with over $8 million invested into the project so far from bonding bills in 2016 and 2018.

Ben Fink, College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences manager of facilities and capital planning, said he hopes to finish the lab with a third phase of improvement this year with HEAPR funds.

“The ultimate goal for the faculty in there is they want to be able to do modern research,” Fink said. “There’s all this modern science they want to be doing, and they just need reliable, robust infrastructure that can support that for decades to come.”

These kinds of needs are not unique to the Andrew Boss lab, Andrew Chan, a University Services portfolio manager, said. 

“Fifty percent of our buildings are over 50 years old,” Chan said. “Typical major building systems on average have a 30-year lifespan. The reliability is diminishing, so many of these systems, we physically can’t get the parts anymore. There are anecdotes about having to procure parts on eBay.”

While lawmakers say HEAPR is a good investment for the state, a bonding bill is not guaranteed this legislative session. Bonding bills are traditionally produced in even-numbered years, while odd-numbered years are dedicated to putting together the state’s biennial budget. 

“Nobody is committing to the fact that there will be a bonding bill yet,” said Rep. Bud Nornes, R-Fergus Falls, who sits on the House capital investment committee. 

Correction: A previous version of this article mischaracterized the HEAPR allocations for the Andrew Boss lab. $8 million has been invested into the renovations so far.