Minnesota is falling behind on its upkeep of college and university buildings, Gov. Tim Walz said Monday as he pitched $447 million in public borrowing that he said is critical to developing a strong workforce.
Walz was flanked by higher education leaders at Anoka-Ramsey Community College as he called for significant borrowing to sustain the state's tradition of strong higher education.
"The insufficient space that we're seeing, the dated classrooms … put that leadership at risk," Walz said. "These are simply things that can no longer be neglected." Walz made his remarks against the backdrop of a business and nursing building lecture hall with a noisy heating system, a dated whiteboard and a pale olive green cider block wall.
The presentation was the third in the Democratic governor's rollout of a public works borrowing plan, which is expected to total roughly $2 billion. He will announce the final piece of the bonding package Wednesday and submit the plan to the Legislature when it convenes next month.
The higher education portion of the plan includes $224.2 million for the University of Minnesota system and $263.7 million for the Minnesota State schools, which will also leverage $41 million in Minnesota State financing.
University of Minnesota President Joan Gabel and the leaders of several Minnesota State colleges praised Walz's proposal, stressing that they have been putting off projects and repairs for a long time.
"We're very committed to make the most of the resources that are made available to us. But it's not sustainable and it will get harder and harder to maintain quality under existing conditions, especially when the university has a $4.8 billion deferred renewal need over 10 years, covering 30 million square feet of facility space," Gabel said.
The university asked for $200 million for general maintenance and replacement work, as well as $117.2 million for specific projects such as a new child development building. Walz's plan includes $125 million for general maintenance and repairs, and nearly $100 million for the other specific U projects.
The governor's proposal comes close to matching the $271.2 million request from the state college and university system for campus improvements. It includes many of the specific projects requested by Minnesota State schools — such as renovations to the Anoka-Ramsey nursing facilities.
At that community college, Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan got a behind-the-scenes look at what $16.3 million would mean there. Nursing student Charles Osugo described people crowded around mannequins, tables, IV lines and computers in a small lab, where it can be a struggle to hear while taking blood pressure measurements. The school's simulation lab, where students practice working in a home health care situation, is a cramped former storage room lacking proper audio equipment.
"We've been as creative as we can be, but I would hope that with that bond bill you have we could move past creativity and have the necessities to make this program better," Osugo said.
"If we are going to prepare our students we need to have the infrastructure to help them get where they want to be," Normandale Community College President Joyce Ester said.
Last year, Walz's proposed $1.27 billion bonding measure included $300 million for higher education, to be split between the University and Minnesota State systems. With Senate Republicans opposed to that level, Walz's bonding push failed.
Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, said Monday that he'd favor a final bonding bill that is closer in size to recent packages passed by the Legislature, which came to less than $1 billion.
"We are committed to working with the governor and the [House] speaker to … actually pass a bonding bill," Gazelka said.
"We want it to focus on wastewater infrastructure, we want it to focus on all of our higher ed buildings, we want it to focus on roads and bridges."
The final piece of Walz's borrowing plan, coming Wednesday, will include funding for roads, bridges and public safety projects.