Recreation not one of ‘3 Rs’

Northrop, Rec Center renovations are not grounded in academic excellence.

For its 2010 period of the Six-Year Capital Improvement Plan, the University of Minnesota plans to spend $70 million renovating Northrop Auditorium and nearly $60 million to expand the University Recreation Center. These projects do not match the UniversityâÄôs self-imposed criteria for capital-improvement projects, such as âÄúcentrality to the UniversityâÄôs mission.âÄù The specific goals by which a capital-improvement plan is judged include âÄústudent success,âÄù research, state service, asset protection and âÄúrecogniz[ing] current âĦ financial realities.âÄù This proposed construction meets almost none of these criteria. The plan prudently claims âÄúprioritizing projects that decrease âĦ space,âÄù yet the Rec Center expansion calls for an increase of 140,000 square feet. While the Northrop renovation will include a classroom and facilities for the University Honors Program, renovating a venue primarily used for entertainment should not be a priority for the University in this economy âÄî especially at the expense of $70 million. Students are losing patience with the University. Budget shortfalls have led to tuition hikes, and students will also likely be on the hook for covering the UniversityâÄôs future deficits. As important, the state is losing patience. Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minn., says the UniversityâÄôs âÄúintransigenceâÄù with the Central Corridor Light Rail Transit line will cause state legislators to be less receptive to University requests in the future. If administration canâÄôt practice responsible spending, it puts both credibility and future funding at risk. We want our administration to improve capital wisely. To propose $130 million in expansions to recreation and entertainment infrastructure while raising tuition and cutting course offerings is no way to advance academic âÄúexcellenceâÄù in our new fiscal reality.