Final bonding bill covers most University of Minnesota construction efforts

After months of lobbying and state legislators hashing out budget proposals, this year’s legislative session ended with parts of the University of Minnesota’s bonding request unfulfilled.

On May 16, the state Legislature approved $119.4 million to help fund two University construction projects, while three others received partial funding. Although the finalized bonding bill cuts the University’s request short, school officials and faculty members are pleased with the amounts approved.

The University asked for $233 million for construction and renovation projects across the five-campus system, while making funding for Higher Education Asset Preservation and Replacement one of its top priorities. State legislators allocated $42.5 million of the $100 million requested for HEAPR, a general improvement fund.

State leaders also set aside $56.7 million for the renovation of the 87-year-old Tate Laboratory of Physics building after University officials unsuccessfully asked for the funding last year.

The University will partially fund the $85 million project, which many students and faculty say is long overdue, citing deterioration, small classrooms and outdated lab equipment.

“Minnesota students deserve up-to-date and efficient learning and research spaces if they are to prepare for the modern work environments they’ll be expected to enter,” University President Eric Kaler said in a May 6 public statement.

The other fully funded request — a wellness center on the Crookston campus — received $10 million in state bonding dollars to renovate and expand the existing recreation center.

The finalized bonding bill partially funds two other University requests — a chemical sciences building on the Duluth campus and lab improvements on the St. Paul campus.

As part of those lab improvements, the University sought $12 million for the Bee Lab, the Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center and a new greenhouse on the St. Paul campus, but legislators granted $8.7 million.

That funding will go toward two of the lab improvement projects, including upgrades for the invasive species research center.

“This is going to allow us to be able to really ramp up our research on [invasive species],” said Becca Nash, the center’s associate director. “We’re just really grateful for the support we received.”

The remaining funds for lab improvements will go toward replacing the Bee Lab’s “dilapidated” facilities to advance research on the endangered insect.

“We already have a very strong bee research program,” said Marla Spivak, who currently runs the lab. “Now we can build a lab that consolidates all the research we do in the entomology department.”

The bonding bill didn’t include funding for one project listed in the University’s request — $30 million for a new Microbial Sciences Research Building. Currently, the University’s microbial research facilities are located throughout the St. Paul and Minneapolis campuses. The funding would have created a space on the St. Paul campus to house 180 researchers.

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