Science classroom building faces uncertain future

by Mike Enright

Nearly five months after the Minnesota Legislature rejected spending $40 million

to replace the science classroom building,

the future of the aging facility remains uncertain.

In its 2006 bonding bill request, the University proposed building a student services center and several new classrooms where the 44-year-old building now stands. University officials said they hope to eventually complete the project, but don’t know when – or if – it will be approved.

University spokesman Dan Wolter said it’s likely the project will be part of the next bonding bill request, in 2008.

“It is a project that (University) President (Bob) Bruininks feels particularly strong about,” Wolter said. “I would guess that at this time next year we will be getting ready to put those projects before the Board of Regents.”

Making do
Meanwhile, the University physics department and student services office are trying to get by in their existing facilities.

Allen Goldman, head of the University’s physics department, said his department was disappointed when the Legislature rejected the request.

Not only would the department use some of the seven proposed auditoriums for labs and lectures, the project would have brought the University closer to getting a badly needed new physics building – a lower-priority project, Goldman said.

“Essentially, it’s a matter of how competitive we are in being able to recruit high-end graduate students and faculty,” he said.

Goldman said not having an up-to-date physics laboratory puts the University at a distinct disadvantage. Many of the school’s biggest competitors, including Ohio State, have brand new facilities.

The University has an edge because of a $4 million endowment that helps pay for graduate student fellowships, Goldman said.

“When (graduate students) come here and visit and see what the place is like, and then compare with what they have at, say, Ohio State, then that sort of neutralizes the advantage of this recruiting tool,” he said.

Lincoln Kallsen, the financial research director in the University’s finance and budget office, has been helping plan the new building, focusing on creating a comprehensive student services office. He said his office is still planning for a new facility.

“Everything I know says the building is still being planned and programmed as it was stated in the last capital request,” Kallsen said.

Students looking for help currently need to go to several different locations, depending on the information they need.

Kallsen said the University wants to change that by bringing all the services together under one roof.

“We don’t want to send you off to Boynton (Health Service) to clear a health hold,” he said. “We want a representative from Boynton there so we can work with you to clear that hold right then and there.”

If the Legislature does not fund a new building next session, student services will try to improve in its current facilities, Kallsen said.

“We can still do some of the things we’ve talked about,” he said. “It’s just harder and it takes longer.”

Why it wasn’t approved
State Sen. Wes Skoglund, DFL-Minneapolis, a member of the Senate capital investment committee, said the University didn’t get money to replace the science classroom building because it spent too much time and effort securing an on-campus football stadium.

“The ‘U’ made a big mistake in not pushing harder for the science classroom building,” he said. “But then they would not have gotten their top priority, which was the stadium.”

Skoglund, a University alumnus who represents a district nearby, called the science classroom building a “worst-class building on a first-class campus.”

Wolter said the University does not believe the stadium took away money from any other projects.

“We disagree that it in any way distracted from our academic goals,” he said.