U receives legislative funding

Erin Ghere

Gov. Jesse Ventura signed off on a $100 million University bonding bill last week that funds eight building projects, including the Molecular and Cellular Biology and Art buildings. The Legislature approved partial or total funding for all but one of the University’s eight building projects before adjourning May 10. The Bulldog Sports Center in Duluth did not receive any state money; the University had requested $10.4 million for it.
The University initially requested $134.3 million in capital improvements. Officials have spent the past year raising about $28 million in private donations for the new buildings.
Tough choices had to be made, said Donna Peterson, a University lobbyist and assistant vice president for government relations. “There is good news and bad news.”
For the good news, the University received $35 million for the Molecular and Cellular Biology Building, the total amount requested. And art students and faculty will soon be housed in a new facility, which has received $18.5 million from the state.
As soon as the funding is allocated to the University this summer, an architect will be chosen and plans will be drawn up for the new art building. Construction is scheduled to begin in the fall, which will be ready for students by April 2002, according to University plans.
The new biology building is under construction as evident by the huge hole in the ground next to Moos Tower. Although partial funding was passed for the building during the 1997-98 bonding session, University officials were counting on this year’s session for the rest of the money.
The University already had $35 million from the state in hand, which partially went to pay for the demolition of the three buildings that previously stood on the site. With the rest of the money, University officials can now afford to put a roof on the building.
The classroom building is scheduled to be completed in March 2002.
As for the Microbial and Plant Genomics Building on the St. Paul campus, the Legislature approved a $10 million appropriation. Cargill Inc. donated $10 million to the University last year, which was contingent upon the Legislature funding the other half of the $20 million building. Legislators obliged.
The plant genomics building is scheduled to open in June 2002.
The University already had to go ahead to do most of the projects it requested funding for, said a spokesman in the University’s Office of Budget and Finance.
Not all the news for the University was good, however. Peterson said the University will have to pay a larger portion of the debt payments on the state bonds. Typically, the University pays one-third of the payments. For this bonding session, the University will have to make about $50 million in payments.
Ventura failed to veto the University bonding legislation despite recommending in January that the Legislature fund only $54 million of the University’s request.
The governor’s bonding proposal did not include funding for the Art Building or for outstate projects.
House and Senate officials already made a number of compromises to agree on a final amount for the University. Originally, the Senate offered $122.7 million in capital improvements compared to the $66.7 million suggested by the House.
In the last bonding session, the 1998 Legislature funded all but $4 million of the University’s request.

— Staff reporter Joe Carlson contributed to this report.

Erin Ghere welcomes comments at [email protected] Sarah McKenzie welcomes comments at [email protected]