U to request $18.7 million for St. Paul greenhouse renovations

Elizabeth Putnam

Faculty and researchers on the St. Paul campus face another possible roadblock in their struggle to renovate the St. Paul greenhouses.

The University will ask for $18.7 million in its 2002 bonding request to continue greenhouse renovation, but Gov. Jesse Ventura allocated only $3.4 million for the project in his budget proposal released last week.

The shortfall worries faculty and researchers who say they’ve fought a strenuous battle for the past four years to get complete legislative funding.

“We are concerned about not getting enough money,” said Philip Larsen, associate dean of the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences. “There are so many programs hinging on these greenhouses.”

Ruth Shaw, a professor in the department of ecology, evolution and behavior, said the greenhouses do not comply with state laws regarding pesticide and fertilizer use. She said they are not functional for research. Approximately 20 percent of the greenhouse structures were built in the 1920s.

The University purchased the northwest greenhouses for $1 from a family with a roadside vegetable stand during the 1960s.

The University received full funding of $900,000 for the project’s planning during the 1998 legislative session.

But in 2000, the University asked for $17.1 million for the greenhouses and received only $5.9 million to complete the project, said Dann Adair, greenhouse manager.

The University was then encouraged to divide the project into two phases so it could use funds more efficiently after receiving the initial allocation.

The $5.9 million for the first phase was put to use in mid-November, when construction began on a quarantine and containment facility.

Phase two depends on $18.7 million the University is requesting in its 2002 bonding proposal. The money would be used to demolish the northwest greenhouses and other facilities, renovate remaining greenhouses and construct a transgenic and high-clearance research greenhouse.

If lawmakers pass Ventura’s $3.4 million proposal, the University can complete phase one but only begin phase two, Adair said.

The greenhouses’ fate is not sealed with Ventura’s proposal. Ventura has to work with the state Legislature to reach a final budget.

“We will do most of the higher education request. The University will be much more pleased, and we will go further (than Ventura),” said Sen. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon.

Langseth is chairman of the Senate Capital Investment Committee, which is in charge of bonding requests.

Rep. Doug Fuller, R-Bemidji and vice chairman of the House Capital Investment Committee, was not familiar with the details of the University’s proposal but said he thinks the Republican bill will do more for the University and higher education than the governor’s.

“I do not believe we’ll get to (the University’s) full request,” he said.

Dick Hemmingsen of University Relations said he is concerned about the possible impact of failing to complete the projects. He said the facilities are used by a growing number of undergraduates – especially those in the colleges of Natural Resources, Biological Sciences, and Agriculture and Food and Environmental Sciences – to meet basic course requirements.

The greenhouse facilities are used by more than 115 faculty, 120 graduate students, 1,500 undergraduates and 100 researchers to conduct research on plant breeding, crop disease and insect control.

If fully funded, the University expects to complete the project in August 2003.