Lawmakers weigh in on long-awaited bonding bill, effect on UMN

“I don’t think that in the past the U has gotten their fair share,” Sen. Kari Dziedzic, DFL-Minneapolis, said.

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Tony Saunders

The Minnesota State Capitol on Nov. 18, 2018.

Samantha Hendrickson, City Reporter

Famous for its early snows and freezing winters, the University of Minnesota’s Duluth campus would not cancel classes due to classrooms being uncomfortably hot — or so one might think.

But for A.B. Anderson Hall, it is a regular occurrence thanks to outdated air control systems. The building is one of the many projects the University system hopes to fix with more than $75 million in state funding.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the bonding bill was pushed past the regular legislative session. After seven months and five special sessions, the University received $75 million from a $1.87 billion bonding bill passed by lawmakers on Oct. 15.

The funds will go to various projects across University campuses, including $38.5 million for asset repair and maintenance across the University system, $29.2 million to replace the Child Development Building, $3.3 million to renovate the Chemistry Undergraduate Teaching Laboratory on the Twin Cities campus and $4.4 million to renovate A.B. Anderson Hall on the Duluth campus.

“We’re very excited and very thankful,” said University of Minnesota Duluth spokesperson Lynne Williams after the Duluth campus received the full amount of funding to renovate A.B. Anderson Hall. It is a project that has been on the books for several years.

The bonding bill does not include funding for a clinical research facility, which was a part of the original $317.2 million request. However, the legislation gave permission for the University to refinance current debt to help fund this project.

University President Joan Gabel, alongside students from the Twin Cities and Duluth campuses, testified for the capital request in her first legislative session back in February of this year, stating that “Our University is committed to serving the state of Minnesota at top-notch levels. But to do so, we need top-notch facilities that match the ambitions of the University and those of our students … ”

Sen. Kari Dziedzic, DFL-Minneapolis, pointed out that allocations in the bill for things like rapid transit and low-income housing will benefit students at the University.

“I don’t think that in the past, the U has gotten their fair share,” Dziedzic said, though she added that this year’s bill was much more fair to the University’s ask.

In 2019 and 2016, the state denied the University system any funding. This past February, some legislative members expressed concerns about lack of transparency from past University administration regarding state funds.

For Sen. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, that concern of transparency still remains. “Those things [like transparency] are still important to us,” he said. “They will matter again when COVID settles down, but right now, everything is all COVID all the time.”

Following the bill’s recent approval, Gabel emphasized the importance of job creation in a University press release, stating that the University is a vital part of Minnesota’s COVID-19 prevention and economic revival — something the provided funds will help spearhead.

Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, agrees and said that funds for the chemistry lab and the child development buildings are all part of the University contributing to the state: “That science and research is really important to our physical health and our economic health.”