Bonding bill would help revamp facilities

Bhe bonding bill will help pay for the renovation of three buildings and various maintenance jobs on the University’s Twin Cities campus.

The bill also covers requests for projects on the other University campuses.

The state passes a bonding bill every two years. Because of gridlock in the Legislature, the bonding bill failed to pass last year.

This session, the bill has passed in both the House and Senate. It is now in conference committee, where the Legislature will come up with a final bill. Then, it has to go to Gov. Tim Pawlenty for approval.

The bill will help fund the Higher Education Asset Preservation and Replacement fund and renovations to Kolthoff Hall, the Education Sciences Building and Academic Health Center facilities.

The House, Senate and governor provided different versions of the bill, all of which fall short of the University’s request.

The University requested approximately $158 million from the state. The Senate

bill funded the most, giving approximately $118 million. The governor recommended approximately $100 million, while the House – funding the least – gave approximately $89 million.

The state pays 100 percent of the Higher Education Asset Preservation and Replacement fund and contributes two-thirds of the funding for other projects, said Richard Pfutzenreuter, the University’s chief financial officer.

The preservation and replacement program funds various maintenance and construction projects on campus.

The University’s goal is to get all projects fully funded, he said. If they aren’t, it’s best to “lop” off a project, he said.

To get projects on the list for the bonding bill, University officials go through a competitive “funneling process,” Pfutzenreuter said.

It’s a four-step process, in which project ideas dwindle, as they have to meet various criteria.

The first step is assessing programmatic needs and facility conditions. It is followed by a review of academic priorities, facility conditions, financial constraints, student experiences and project logistics.

The third step includes planning and feasibility.

The fourth step is actually putting the project on the list for the bill.

“At any one point of time, there’s probably a couple of billion dollars’ worth of needs,” Pfutzenreuter said.

Not everything can get funded, he said.

ACADEMIC HEALTH CENTER

Brady Averill
Approximately 5,500 students use Academic Health Center facilities daily, said Mary Koppel, University assistant vice president for Academic Health Center public affairs. That includes undergraduate, graduate and professional students.

Min Xi, a biostatistics graduate student, is one of them. He said Academic Health Center classrooms such as ones in Mayo Auditorium need to be improved.

Rui Zhang, also a biostatistics graduate student, said she agrees. She said most classroom desks are too small and are difficult to use for taking tests.

Funds from the bonding bill would go toward renovating existing center teaching facilities, including Mayo Auditorium, the Veterinary Medicine Teaching Center, and classrooms and labs in various buildings.

Koppel said people have talked about improving the center facilities for approximately five years.

She said Academic Health Center renovations are no more important than other projects on campus.

“I would never say the Academic Health Center is the most important priority,” she said.

But the University has to make sure it is fulfilling its mission to serve Minnesota by training the next generation of workers who depend on quality faculty members and facilities, Koppel said.

She said two-thirds of Minnesota’s health-care workers are educated at the University.

With the bonding bill’s passage, renovations would lead to smaller and more technologically equipped classrooms, Koppel said.

“It will create the kind of spaces students need today for when they practice and graduate in four to eight years,” she said.

She said instructors can’t teach students in outdated classrooms. Many classrooms are approximately 30 years old, she said.

For example, Koppel said, Mayo Auditorium is a “tough learning space” because of its theater-style setting and lack of technology.

Also, pharmacy students on the Twin Cities campus need to be able to communicate with their counterparts on the Duluth campus, she said.

Renovations would improve the two campuses’ connections, she said.

“Now, it requires lots of driving and phones,” she said.

Koppel said she thinks the state of facilities plays a role in students’ decisions when they choose a higher education institution.

“It can be very competitive to attract students to your institution,” she said.

Nearby schools in Wisconsin and Iowa have “state-of-the-art” facilities, she said.

However, both Xi and Zhang said the facilities didn’t factor in their decisions to attend the University.

HIGHER EDUCATION ASSET PRESERVATION AND REPLACEMENT FUNDS

Brady Averill
Higher Education Asset Preservation and Replacement funds are used to make health and safety improvements, utility upgrades and system improvements for more than 100 projects on the University’s four campuses, according to the University’s request.

“There’s nothing sexy about HEAPR,” said Richard Pfutzenreuter, the University’s chief financial officer.

The University has more than 800 buildings, which at any time could use maintenance.

For example, the funds help pay for replacing a heating system or renewing existing roofs.

One project on the Twin Cities campus includes installing sprinklers and fire alarms in Moos Tower.

KOLTHOFF HALL

Rowena Vergara
Poor ventilation and an inadequate gas system in Kolthoff Hall is nothing new for graduate student Dan Yu, who works in a chemistry lab every day.

“The gas system is dangerous and should be efficient Ö I just don’t think it’s enough,” Yu said.

But a University renovation request from the state could improve these conditions.

The University is asking for $17.4 million to renovate Kolthoff Hall, a 35-year-old building that houses teaching and research labs for the department of chemistry.

Kolthoff Hall needs renovations because of health and safety concerns, said Roberta Humphreys, Institute of Technology associate dean.

Richard Pfutzenreuter, the University’s chief financial officer, said that Kolthoff Hall, a facility used by approximately 500 students and faculty members, was “not on the radar screen” until four years ago.

“It was the conditions that made it a priority,” he said.

Some graduate students said the building lacks a strong vacuum system, which is important when working with toxic chemicals.

A poor vacuum system does not allow a hood to work properly, Yu said. A hood is an enclosed area that keeps chemicals behind glass while doing an experiment.

“The vacuum is not strong, so some dangerous chemicals are not completely removed,” Yu said.

Other graduate students said the building is simply outdated.

“My office is completely surrounded by walls Ö there are no windows,” said Youngjong Kang, a fourth-year graduate student.

Yu said, “(The University) just strongly recommends the renovation and funding, because a lot of undergraduate students are studying here, so a better facility would help teaching and research.”

EDUCATION SCIENCES BUILDING

Rowena Vergara
If the state approves the University’s full bonding bill request, it would be the first renovation for the College of Education and Human Development in nearly 20 years, said Steve Yussen, dean of the college.

The college has sought renovation for the abandoned Education Sciences Building, which was formerly the Mineral Resources Research Center, for as long as Yussen has served as its dean, he said.

“It was something we were looking at when I first came,” said Yussen, who began at the University eight years ago.

The building, which has been vacant for more than eight years, was first proposed for renovations in 2000 but was denied, he said.

The Legislature again opposed the request in 2002. The current request is the third, Yussen said.

“That’s a building people have looked at for a while Ö it’s been a long process,” he said.

The University has requested $14.5 million to design, refurbish and renovate the building.

Currently, programs within the college are split into six different buildings, mostly on the East Bank.

The college is asking for renovations to the Education Sciences Building so several of these departments could work closer together.

The building would house the department of educational psychology, the Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement, and the Center for Early Education and Development.

The facility would include several offices, small conference rooms and computer labs.

“It will allow faculty and staff from each department to physically relocate from where they are now,” Yussen said.

The college’s main goal is to serve as the state’s major resource center for education. Through the renovation request, more teaching, learning and research can take place, Yussen said.

“It will benefit University students, K-12 students and schools by virtue of research,” he said.

“The University thinks it’s a priority, and Legislature understands the nature of work that goes on there.

“They understand that the college of education plays a major role in the state.”

The renovated building would house approximately 50 faculty members and more than 80 researchers and graduate students, according to the University’s request.