University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler underscored the need to refurbish aging campus facilities at a Capitol news conference Wednesday, touting the school’s statewide impact as he laid out infrastructure funding needs totaling nearly $239 million.
“There are no new bright, shiny objects in this request,” Kaler said. “We want to renew what we have, and that’s more than 29 million square feet of facilities.”
The University of Minnesota’s 2018 capital request includes $200 million for higher education asset preservation and replacement (HEAPR), $10.5 million to modernize outdated classrooms and labs at coordinate campuses, $4 million for repairs at Duluth’s Glensheen mansion and $24 million to renovate Pillsbury Hall — the second-oldest building on the Twin Cities campus.
Kaler noted that the U’s five campuses contribute more than $8.6 billion to the state’s economy each year, according to national research firm Tripp Umbach.
Maggie Perrel, a recent graduate from the University of Minnesota Crookston, said at the news conference that repairs are needed if the northwestern Minnesota campus is to remain attractive.
“The renovation of these labs would make the science program at UMC that much more competitive,” she said.
Gov. Mark Dayton recommended roughly $300 million in funding for the university in his $1.5 billion public works bonding proposal — around $60 million more than the school itself requested. The DFL governor has stated that funding higher education infrastructure will be a top priority in his final year in office.
But a $300 million appropriation will be a tough sell to Republicans who control the House and Senate. The university hasn’t received more than $120 million in a bonding bill in the past decade.
Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, chairman of the House Capital Investment Committee, said neither request is realistic.
“I can’t imagine that our bill would be large enough to accommodate that great a request without doing an injustice to the other requests that are going to be coming,” Urdahl said.
Kaler said if deferred maintenance continues to go unfunded, it will only get worse — and more expensive. The U depends on the state for two-thirds of its capital funding, he said, and HEAPR projects will continue to be postponed if requests aren’t fulfilled.
Kaler also addressed potential tuition raises and said an inflationary increase will be needed this year on the Twin Cities campus. If lawmakers consider a supplemental budget this year, Kaler said any funding the U receives would be used to minimize the tuition increase.
Mike Kenyanya, student body president at the University of Minnesota Duluth, said at the news conference that tuition hikes at the local and national levels are unsustainable for students.
“I would be remiss not to bring up tuition and how important it is to keep that low,” he said.
Ryan Faircloth is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.