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'No new bright, shiny objects' in U of M bonding request

President Eric Kaler of the University of Minnesota says on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018, that construction projects he wants on his campuses involve repairs, not new facilities. Don Davis / Forum News Service1 / 3
Student body President Mike Kenyanya of the University of Minnesota Duluth tells reporters Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018, that students need the school to keep tuition from rising. Don Davis / Forum News Service2 / 3
Maggie Perrell, a recent University of Minnesota Crookston graduate, says on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018, that the school needs to renovate some of its facilities. Don Davis / Forum News Service3 / 3

ST. PAUL—The University of Minnesota wants the state to help fund routine repairs and for the first time in years is not seeking new buildings.

"There are no new bright shiny projects in this," university President Eric Kaler said Wednesday, Feb. 21, about the school's public works funding requests. "We want to renew what we have."

With buildings across the state that combined are about the same size of five Mall of Americas, Kaler said many facilities are more than 50 years old and built in times when students and professors had different needs.

Maggie Pherrell, a December University of Minnesota Crookston graduate, said she liked attending the northwestern Minnesota campus because it is small enough that the faculty knew her needs. However, she added, laboratories "are at their capacity" and learning would be improved if buildings are renewed.

Student body President Mike Kenyanya of the University of Minnesota Duluth compared the school's needs to those of an average Minnesotan: "It is cheaper to do an oil change rather than replace your engine every year or so."

He also said it is important for the university to not increase tuition.

Kaler said his goal is to is to do just that. The university is seeking a $10 million boost in the budget lawmakers passed last year so it can hold down tuition. He said the goal is to keep tuition increases to the rate of inflation on the Twin Cities campus and lower on Crookston, Morris, Duluth and Rochester campuses.

Since the budget passed last year, most 2018 attention is focused on public works projects to be funded by the state selling bonds. The state pays two-thirds of the price of such projects, with the university picking up the other third.

The university wants nearly $260 million for public works projects.

Many of the projects are routine repairs, some of which have been put off for years. Other projects on the university's list make changes such as converting storage areas into classrooms.

Examples Kaler gave include:

• Renovate 4,000 square feet in Owen Hall in Crookston to create modern science classrooms.

• Upgrade classrooms, offices and building systems in A.B. Anderson building that serves 4,500 students in Duluth.

• Convert Blakely Hall's ground floor on the Morris campus into a modern teacher training facility.

• The largest single project would be a $24 million request to renovate Pillsbury Hall on the Twin Cities campus. Pillsbury is one of the university's oldest buildings and would be used for classrooms and research space for more than 6,000 students.

• Duluth's Glensheen mansion would receive $4 million to stabilize the structure and prevent further deterioration.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.