U of M president: We need more money than Dayton provides

By Don Davis

University of Minnesota officials want legislators to be more generous in funding their construction and repair requests than Gov. Mark Dayton.

The university wants $233 million in state money to do projects ranging from making buildings more energy efficient, to repairing leaky roofs to building new facilities. Dayton wants to pay $119 million.

Less than a week into their 2014 session, legislators Monday heard from top U of M officials asking for more money than on Dayton’s list.

President Eric Kaler told the House higher education committee that of special concern is the $40 million Dayton proposed for the university’s Higher Education Asset Preservation and Replacement fund. The university seeks $100 million this year and Vice President Pamela Wheelock said “hundreds of thousands of dollars” are needed in the next decade.

Kaler said the money is to extend the life of the university’s 29 million square feet of buildings on campuses in the Twin Cities, Duluth, Crookston, Morris and Rochester, as well as other locations around the state.

Besides basic repairs, the university wants to renovate a Twin Cities science building ($85 million), construct a new Twin Cities microbial science research building ($45 million), renovate and expand a Crookston wellness center ($15 million), improve a variety of laboratory facilities ($18 million) and build a new science and advanced materials facility in Duluth ($36 million).

The lab improvements would include new facilities for fighting aquatic invasive species, work now centered in a 1911 tractor garage on the St. Paul campus. Also on the university’s wish list is replacing a bee-research facility that was condemned 18 years ago.

Invasive species such as zebra mussels are taking food from native species. Scientists say if Asian carp get into Minnesota waters, the situation would get even worse.

Bees are dying off, creating concerns for the agriculture community since farmers rely on bees and other insects to pollinate many crops.

Kaler said that while the university has nationally recognized experts in invasive species and bee research, their outdated facilities mean research “is not as impactful as it needs to be.”

Another $15 million is sought to expand the update the Crookston wellness center, where athletes now use exercise equipment so much that other students have little access.

Rep. Kim Norton, D-Rochester, complained that “our sports facilities oftentimes are state of the art,” while other students must do with much less. Wheelock said many athletic facilities are financed by donors, not taxes.

The proposed Duluth science building, last on the university’s priority list, would replace aging labs that have limited the number of student the University of Minnesota Duluth can admit into its science and engineering programs.

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