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U of M to seek $235 million from state for buildings

MINNEAPOLIS — The University of Minnesota will hold off on higher-profile construction projects in hopes the state will pay for overdue maintenance of its aging campus buildings.

The university has identified $4.2 billion in deferred maintenance work needed over the next 10 years. More than one-quarter of its infrastructure is rated in poor or critical condition.

"For a top-tier research institution, this is just not acceptable and has impacts in the classroom, in the lab and in the marketplace," Mike Berthelsen, interim vice president for university services, said in a presentation Thursday, Sept. 7, to the Board of Regents.

U administrators on Thursday proposed asking the state for $200 million in next year's bonding bill for systemwide deferred maintenance, plus $35 million for other building projects — the renovation of Pillsbury Hall in Minneapolis to relocate the English department and smaller academic renovations in Duluth, Morris and Crookston.

"This plan places a very strong emphasis on protecting and preserving what we have. There is very limited 'new' in this plan," Berthelsen said.

Lawmakers have been loath to fund deferred maintenance — called "HEAPR" for Higher Education Asset Preservation and Renewal — anywhere close to the level U leaders say they need.

The Legislature in spring agreed to borrow money for $990 million in construction projects throughout the state. The U's share was $120 million, but just $20.6 million of that went toward HEAPR.

"I don't think we've been able to communicate in the most strategic way" the consequences of an underfunded HEAPR request, Regent Dean Johnson said Thursday.

Brian Burnett, senior vice president for finance and operations, said the simplicity of the university's next request — just three items totaling $235 million — should help them present their case to the Legislature. He said they'll be ready to show lawmakers "in stark terms" what won't get done if it's not fully funded.

Regent Steve Sviggum said there clearly is a need for lots of HEAPR work, but it's unrealistic to expect it will be fully funded. Considering what the U has received for capital projects over the past 15 years, he said, it would be better off asking for about $150 million.

"This is a very bold request," Sviggum said. "If you look at the history, the chance of a $235 million request is pretty much zero."

Regents will vote on the request at a later meeting.

St. Paul campus

The bonding bill projects are part of the university's rolling six-year capital plan, which features major improvements to the St. Paul campus.

Sometime in the near future, the U wants to build a new dairy research facility and renovate additional teaching space in St. Paul. Leaders also are studying the feasibility of replacing the St. Paul student center and adding on to the gymnasium.

Other priorities in the six-year plan include improving health sciences facilities; expanding capacity for science, technology, engineering and math programs; and modernizing the libraries in Morris and the Twin Cities.

Many athletics improvements are on the list, too. They include a year-round golf practice facility, a new club room at Mariucci Arena for former Gopher athletes, and various improvements to women's facilities to improve gender equity systemwide.