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U of M to seek $193 million from legislature

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Folwell Hall
Folwell Hall on the University of Minnesota campus is one of many buildings that would recieve renovations from the $193 million request.
MPR Photo/Tim Post

The University of Minnesota will ask state lawmakers to kick in $193 million next year to help it build new facilities and renovate again buildings. 

The U's Board of Regents unanimously approved the request Friday at its monthly meeting. Regents hope the Legislature looks favorably on the request even as they face another potential budget shortfall. 

The University of Minnesota has come up with a wish list of projects it wants the state to help fund. 

First, U of M officials say they need $100 million to fix up buildings and other facilities. Roofs need to be replaced, parking lots need to be resurfaced, and air conditioning and heating equipment needs to be upgraded. 

University of Minnesota president Robert Bruininks said it is essential the state help fix the school's aging infrastructure. He said on the U's Twin Cities campus alone there are 60 buildings over 70 years old. 

"That's where our students study, our faculty and staff work and where the spectacular discoveries we think are important to changing our world take place each and every day," Bruininks said.

The request also includes $34.5 million worth of renovations to classrooms in century-old Folwell Hall on the U's Twin Cities campus and $10 million is meant for the renovation of laboratories. There's a $10 million request for an American Indian Learning center at the U's Duluth campus, $5.5 million for the Itasca Biological station, and $80 million dollars for a new physics and nanotechnology facility. 

Fowell Hall
University of Minnesota officials hope to use stimulus money from the government to update Folwell Hall, a century old building on campus that houses foreign language programs.
MPR Photo/Tim Post

For its part the U would borrow $46 million of its own to pay for the projects. 

Bruininks said such a request may seem like a hard sell as lawmakers will likely be dealing with a state budget deficit, the extent of which has yet to be determined.

But he said investing in the U's infrastructure is exactly what needs to happen in a down economy. 

That's seems to be what Sen. Keith Langseth is thinking too. The Democratic state senator from Glyndon chairs the Capital Investment committee and said the U's request should be part of a hearty bonding bill, especially since it includes projects that will put people to work and comes at time when construction costs are low. 

"It's a much better time when things are going great, and the bids come in high and most of the people are working," Langseth said. "This is the time to bond and build."

University of Minnesota Regent Dean Johnson, who spent 25 years in the state Legislature as both a Republican and a Democrat, sees the issue from both sides. 

As a regent he thinks the request is reasonable. A similar bonding wish list from the U two years ago came in at more than $220 million. But Johnson also knows lawmakers worried about borrowing too much money could be less than generous.

Construction crew at the U
A construction crew works at the University of Minnesota campus.
MPR Photo/Tim Post

"Will we end up with zero at the end of the day? No we won't, but will get whatever we want, well that remains to be seen," Johnson said.

The final say on how much bonding money the U of M receives is up to Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty, and he's vetoed U projects in the past. 

In a statement, the Governor's spokesman Brian McClung said the Pawlenty administration is interested in a bonding bill that creates jobs and helps Minnesota move forward. But he said, "the requests will far surpass available resources" and will need to be prioritized. 

The University of Minnesota won't be the only one in line for higher education bonding bill money next session. The Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System has approved a similar wish list that totals $301 million. 

The details of the request include:

* Higher Education asset preservation and replacement: $100 million

* Folwell Hall renovation: $34.5 million

* American Indian Learning and Resource Center in Duluth: $10 million

* Physics and Nanotechnology facility for Twin Cities campus: $80 million

* General Laboratory renovation: $10 million

* Itasca Biological station: $5.5 million