U to ask Legislature for $107 million for building projects

The University announced Friday it will seek $107 million in state aid for several capital building projects that were left unfunded last session.

Conor Shine

A new physics building, repairs to a remote northern research outpost and funding for an American Indian center in Duluth top the University of MinnesotaâÄôs wish list for the Legislature this spring.
The University announced Friday it will seek $107 million in state aid for several capital building projects that were left unfunded last session.
Last yearâÄôs request contained five projects, but after a political back-and-forth and line-item vetoes by Gov. Tim Pawlenty, only the $34.5 million Folwell Hall renovation was funded. The University also received planning and HEAPR funds as part of the $700 million bonding bill.
Capital budgets are usually only done every other year, but President Bob Bruininks said thereâÄôs âÄúa good prospectâÄù the Legislature will include a bonding bill this year, so the University put together a new request.
âÄúWe feel itâÄôs important to put our ideas, priorities and projects on the table,âÄù he said.
While there is a chance for a bonding bill, it will likely be for a smaller amount of money, in the neighborhood of $200 million, and focused mostly on basic infrastructure needs, said Sen. David Senjem, R-Rochester.
Projects in this yearâÄôs request include the $74 million Physics and Nanotechnology building on the Twin Cities campus, $10 million for the American Indian Learning Research Center in Duluth and $5.5 million for repairs to the Itasca Biological Station in northern Minnesota.
The only new addition is a request for $12.5 million to mitigate the effects of the light rail on University research laboratories.
The new physics building is a priority for the University and has wide support from legislators, said Kathleen OâÄôBrien, vice president for University Services. If funded, construction on the building, which is intended to replace Tate Laboratory, would begin this summer.
Senjem, who will chair the capital investment committee this spring, said heâÄôs supportive of the Physics and Nanotechnology project, but there may not be much funding for new buildings in a bonding bill.
âÄúItâÄôs a matter of timing,âÄù he said. âÄúIt will boil down to the amount of the bill whether we save those kinds of projects until 2012.âÄù
Senjem said significantly more money will be available for capital projects in 2012, the normal bonding year.
Along with the new building requests, the University will ask for $35 million in HEAPR funds, which are used to maintain and repair the UniversityâÄôs infrastructure. OâÄôBrien said this yearâÄôs HEAPR money would be targeted at fixing leaky roofs and bringing elevators up to code throughout the University system.
âÄúAll of us who have spent time in Minnesota know youâÄôre going to have water in your basement or need to replace your roof sometime,âÄù OâÄôBrien said.
The University will be responsible for one-third of the cost of any project approved by the Legislature, except for the HEAPR funds. If all projects were approved, the University would be on the hook for $42 million and an additional $1.7 million annually in operating costs.
Chief Financial Officer Richard Pfutzenreuter said about $26 million of those costs would be paid for through debt, with the remaining $16 million coming from internal resources like fundraising.
The board will take action on the request in February, shortly before the governor releases his budget proposal.