Renovation costs prompt U to consider selling Supercomputer Center

Brett Angel

While construction projects continue to bring new architecture to the Twin Cities campuses, one University building might be left in the dust.

Based on a recommendation presented to the Board of Regents last month, University officials are considering selling its Supercomputer Center.

Located at 1200 Washington Ave. S., the 207,000-square-foot building had been home to the University Supercomputing Institute for nearly 16 years. But when the institute relocated to Walter Library this spring as part of the Digital Technology Center, questions arose about the future of its former home.

The building needs repair and would require a significant financial investment if the University decides to keep the property.

The building needs a new exterior wall and an alternate heating source would have to be installed before a new tenant could occupy the space.

The current tenant, Network Computing Services, occupies approximately half the building’s space and heats much of the building through heat pumps by distributing the excess energy created by its supercomputers.

According to the University Real Estate Office, the proposed renovation would cost the University at least $3.5 million and could total as much as $8.4 million.

“The question we’re asking ourselves is: Does it make any sense for the University to take money away from other buildings to repair a building that we aren’t currently occupying?” said Susan Weinberg, University director of real estate.

Weinberg said the level of interest and quality of offers from prospective buyers will determine the University’s choice.

City, county and state agencies have until August 30 to make an initial offer on the building. Private companies and the public will be able to wage their own bids beginning Sept. 1.

Weinberg said she does not believe any public agencies have a definite interest in acquiring the property, which comes with a $10.5 million price tag.

If an offer is not made for the initial asking price, the school might decide to maintain possession of the building rather than sell. When the recommendation to sell was made in July, regents insisted that receiving full value for the property was a top priority.

“I understand the economics of it, but I’m never comfortable selling any property adjacent to the University,” said Regent Anthony Baraga, who serves as chairman of the board’s Facilities Committee. “On the other hand, I sure don’t want to put any more money into it than we have to.”

The school is expected to entertain offers for three to six months, then re-assess the situation and reconsider its options.

The University purchased a portion of the former printing building in 1985 for $1 and immediately spent $2.3 million to renovate it into a supercomputer center.

The state of Minnesota and the city of Minneapolis, which promoted the area as a high-technology corridor, provided additional funding for the project. The University purchased the remainder of the building in the early ’90s for $5.5 million.

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