In Minnesota, we’re proud of “Up North.” We make summer pilgrimages to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. We marvel at the power of Lake Superior. We enjoy the variety of craft beers brewed in the Arrowhead region. We visit the headwaters of the Mississippi. We imagine an earlier era at the Glensheen estate in Duluth.
As a longtime resident of northern Minnesota, I’m particularly proud of the Arrowhead region and the University of Minnesota’s presence there. Our researchers are working to keep invasive species from spreading into our waterways; finding efficient, environmentally viable ways to maximize Minnesota’s mineral wealth; collaborating with American Indian tribes to preserve native languages; and identifying economic opportunities for the “brain gain” of our small towns. Students, researchers, staff and alumni from our five campuses are pressing forward on solving northern Minnesota’s greatest challenges.
But that work is in jeopardy because many of our facilities where it takes place are more than 50 years old and in need of nuts-and-bolts repairs. That’s why the university has made Higher Education Asset Preservation and Replacement funding (HEAPR) our top priority this legislative session. HEAPR funds extend the life of buildings and reduce operating costs. Without that funding, the issues will only get worse and become more costly to fix. Several projects included in our request are of particular importance to northern Minnesota.
The Hubacheck Wilderness Research Center needs a number of mechanical repairs, ranging from replacing an unreliable well to renewing its electrical distribution. Located near the BWCAW, the center is a hub of ecological and forestry research focused on the effects of a changing climate.
The Itasca Biological Station and Laboratories, located in the middle of Minnesota’s iconic state park, needs major repairs, particularly in the cabins that more than 1,500 university undergraduate and graduate students, faculty members and staff stay in each year while taking field courses, conducting research and attending professional workshops. We need to rebuild foundations, reshingle roofs, repair flooring and replace plumbing to ensure that these cabins are usable for future generations to take advantage of the incredible living laboratory that is Itasca.
The Cloquet Forestry Center has been the primary research and education forest for university researchers and students to study forest ecosystems and sustainable management for more than a century, and our facilities at this location are showing their age. We need to renew the electrical system, connect to the city’s water and sewer systems, and make a number of infrastructure repairs.
In Grand Rapids, our North Central Research and Outreach Center is the northernmost land-grant research and outreach center in the continental U.S. As such, it serves as a valuable USDA Zone 3 cold-hardiness site for fruit, vegetable and ornamental plant research. But that facility, too, needs repairs that include energy efficiency and electrical upgrades and replacement windows.
Beyond our HEAPR request, Glensheen — the 20th-century Congdon family estate that hosted more than 140,000 visitors last year — is in dire need of investment. The estate is falling apart. The university needs to repair the foundation of the garden walls adjacent to the house, replace the failing boiler and fix deteriorating masonry. We can only restore Glensheen with the support of state investment.
Every day, the University of Minnesota is working to keep the region’s economy strong, its culture alive and its beauty intact.
As we near the end of the legislative session, I call upon legislators to support these gems of northern Minnesota by investing in the university’s HEAPR request.
David McMillan is chair of the University of Minnesota Board of Regents.