Carlson School gets donation for new building

The proposed West Bank facility would further the business school’s goal of a 50 percent larger undergrad class.

Dan Haugen

Carlson School of Management Dean Larry Benveniste confirmed this week that the college has secured a large donation for a proposed undergraduate classroom building expansion.

Benveniste said he could not disclose details of the gift, but he said the project would be significantly funded by private sources and include “lots of recognition” for donors. The school has already been “quietly” collecting cash donations, he said.

The University is asking the Legislature for $1.7 million from this year’s state bonding bill to cover design and planning costs for the new building, which would house Carlson School and College of Liberal Arts classrooms. The project will cost between $25 million and $30 million.

Carlson School officials said the addition is necessary to accommodate growing demand for its undergraduate program, which admits about 450 students per year. This year, the school received 2,850 admissions applications, more than twice what it received in 1996.

“We turn away some very outstanding students,” said Robert Ruekert, associate dean for undergraduate programs. “We know there are kids with tremendous ability Ö that we have to say no to.”

The Carlson School hopes to increase the size of its undergraduate class 50 percent by 2007, but to do that, it will need more space, officials said.

The proposed building would be located at Fourth Street South and 19th Avenue South, where a carpool-only parking lot currently sits. It would contain approximately 30 classrooms ranging from 20 to 160 seats each, along with study areas, office space for faculty, advisers and teaching assistants and a new undergraduate computer lab.

The school is still waiting for design and planning funds, but officials said they envision a seamless existence with the current Carlson School building. A skyway will link the two buildings, and they will likely have similar architectural styles and classroom technology.

Ruekert said expanding the undergraduate program will mean larger class sizes for some courses, but the school hopes to complement higher student-to-teacher ratios with state-of-the-art classroom technology.

“The vision we have is not for a large auditorium with a professor and a piece of chalk. It’s something that’s much more dynamic than that,” Ruekert said.

Entrepreneurial studies first-year student Taofiki Alabi said he thinks technology can help make classrooms feel smaller. He said his current classrooms are a step above the rest and as long as the new building keeps that “Carlson mystique,” he’d be happy.

Other Carlson School undergraduate students agreed, saying there is room for expansion as long as a small-classroom atmosphere is maintained. They were most excited about the prospects of a new undergraduate computer lab. The current lab consistently has a long waiting line during peak times.

Administrators still need to win over lawmakers, who in the coming months will consider whether to grant the University planning funds for the project as part of this year’s bonding bill. Gov. Tim Pawlenty did not include the Carlson School expansion in his initial bonding recommendation earlier this month.

University lobbyist Donna Peterson said having a generous donor lined up for a project always makes the case stronger. She said lobbyists plan to continue pushing for the University’s entire $155.5 state bonding request despite Pawlenty’s recommendation of less than half that amount.

Sen. Keith Langseth, D-Glyndon, chairman of the Senate capital investment committee, called the University’s bonding request “very reasonable.” He said there is a good chance the Carlson School funds will make it into the Senate’s bonding bill.

“We want to do it,” he said. “The question is: How do you get it all in one bill?”

Langseth and members of his committee toured the University campus late last year. Their visit included a stop at the Carlson School to discuss the proposed addition.

Carlson School officials will suggest that expanding the undergraduate class is good for the entire state.

While no formal study has been done, Benveniste said he has accumulated anecdotal evidence that when the Carlson School turns away qualified students, they often leave the state for school and do not return.

In addition to generating more tuition dollars, a larger undergraduate class would also expand the pool of potential alumni donors.

“Our undergrads tend to be very generous in giving back to the Carlson School,” Ruekert said.