Legislature to review U building budget request

by Megan Boldt

After listening to University officials describe new buildings they want throughout the week, today legislators will hear funding requests for a program designed to make sure students can use those buildings for many years to come.
The University has requested
$16 million for the upkeep of current buildings throughout the next two years. The Higher Education Asset Preservation and Replacement program is a University systemwide program that extends the life of the University’s existing physical structure.
“This is the invisible part of what we do to keep the plant up,” said Sandra Gardebring, vice president of University institutional relations.
The program is focused on eliminating safety risks and increasing access to University buildings. It is also designed to replace unreliable cooling systems, Gardebring said.
“It’s an ongoing task,” she added, comparing it to the upkeep of a home.
Orlyn Miller, senior planner for facilities management planning and programs, said some of the main improvements made with HEAPR funding are:
ù new sprinkler systems and fire alarms in the Social Sciences Building;
ù new fire alarms in Vincent and Morrill halls;
ù elevator upgrades in Elliott Hall in compliance with access for people with disabilities;
ù improving air quality in Kolthoff Hall and the Tate Lab of Physics; and
ù replacement of chillers in the cooling system in the Academic Health Center buildings.
HEAPR projects, which ensure University buildings are up to health and safety codes, are always the number-one priority in the University’s capital request, Gardebring said.
Legislators want to know the University is taking care of the state-funded buildings, she said, adding, “They don’t want us deferring maintenance on these buildings.”
Gov. Jesse Ventura proposed funding only $9 million of the
$16 million requested for upkeep. Although Ventura’s proposal is a recommendation, legislators keep it in mind when making their final decisions in the spring.
Gardebring said she believes legislators will pass more funding for HEAPR than Ventura proposed.
“We’re hoping the Legislature will give us the extra $7 million,” Gardebring said, adding the University will have to make do with whatever amount it receives.
Mike Wilhelmi, committee administrator for the Senate higher education budget committee, said the committee will review all the projects on the University’s wish list before making any decisions.
“We are, though, delving into HEAPR more this year than ever before,” Wilhelmi said. The committee wants to know more about how both the University and Minnesota State Colleges and Universities handle their maintenance programs.
Wilhelmi added the Legislature usually does not fully fund HEAPR requests, but it is disappointing that the governor did not think maintenance is important enough to give more funding.
The University’s $16 million HEAPR request is one of the lowest requests the University has submitted, Wilhelmi said.

Megan Boldt covers state government and welcomes comments at [email protected] She can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3212.