U undergoes largest building boom in 20 years

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In hopes of chasing down a top-three research institution ranking, the University of Minnesota is undergoing its biggest building boom in more than 20 years.

The University is making the development push under the belief that state of the art research facilities will attract top faculty and students from around the world.

But development isn’t cheap.

By the time the dust settles, the University will have completed at least $1 billion in facilities development and renovation over the next five to 10 years, Director of Project Management Orlyn Miller said.

In that time span the University has plans to construct or renovate: TCF Bank Stadium; Bell Museum of Natural History; Center for Magnetic Resonance Research; three new biomedical labs; Northrop Auditorium; Science Teaching and Student Services building; McNamara Alumni Center; Weisman Art Museum and Recreation Center.

Generally, the state funds two-thirds of development costs for University facilities, and the University picks up the rest of the tab.

With the economy in a tailspin, some of the projects that aren’t yet funded are at risk; however the projects that already have funding won’t be affected, Miller said.

“There is some caution looking forward as to whether we can maintain this in the short term until the economy can get back on its feet,” Miller said.

The University is also working on design and planning for a new physics and nanotechnology building that will be built on the soccer fields at the south end of Cooke Hall . The building will cost about $80 million and has not yet been funded, but the plan will be brought before legislators in 2010, Miller said.

Fairview is also planning to construct an Ambulatory Care Center on University property near the Superblock on Fulton Street .

Fairview will own the building, but a large amount of University Faculty will work at the center, Miller said.

Add a light rail train with stations and these additions will change the face of the University.

“It’s safe to say that in my tenure here, and historically, this is one of the most rapidly developing times that we’ve seen,” Miller said.

Science Teaching and Student Services building
Cost: $72.5 million
Construction begins: January 2009
Completion: Fall 2010

While some professors who are teaching in the Science Classroom building are not thrilled with the construction and limited access to the Washington Avenue Bridge , many welcome the prospect of new facilities on campus.

New facilities relate directly to high-profile faculty, said Henricus Hogenkamp, a retired biochemistry professor.

When Hogenkamp started in the 1970s as the head of the College of Biological Sciences, the University was in a rebuilding phase, developing science labs near Coffman Union.

He said that time period is similar to the University’s current building boom.

“The administration suddenly realized if you want to do good science you need good facilities,” Hogenkamp said.

Central Corridor Light-Rail Line
Cost: about $915 million (not University funded)
Construction begins: 2010
Completion: 2014

The University originally wanted the light rail to skirt the north side of campus, but it ended up settling for a proposal that has it rolling straight down Washington Avenue, Miller said.

With stops on the West Bank and East Bank, the light rail will provide students with a great way to travel and utilize mass transit, Miller said.

But the prospect of the train has also stirred up some controversy. Once the light rail is completed, Washington Avenue will be closed to all car traffic from Pleasant Street to Walnut Street .

This could funnel a large amount of traffic onto East River Road, Miller said, but Washington Avenue will still be open to campus connectors, bicycles and foot traffic.

The light rail is also causing headaches for University researchers who have labs near Washington Avenue.

The Nuclear Magnetic Resonance facility, housed in Nils Hasselmo Hall , will have to be moved, because the equipment is extremely sensitive to vibration that light rail trains produce, facility director Beverly Ostrowski said.

Medical labs
Cost: $300 million
Construction Begins: 2009
Completion: 2013-2014

The state has agreed to fund 75 percent of the construction for three new buildings that have potential to be major money and research producers, Miller said.

Once the complex is finished, it will be home to a cancer research lab, a cardiology lab, an infectious disease lab and an expansion to the Center for Magnetic Resonance and Research.

The construction for the new labs and the research they will eventually produce will pump a lot of money into the state, Miller said.

“This is not just about the University,” Miller said. “It’s going to have some big economic impacts statewide.”

TCF Bank Stadium
Cost: about $280 million
Construction began: Summer 2007
Completion: Fall 2009

When finished, TCF Bank Stadium will have a maximum capacity of 50,000 and will likely have a light rail station and new parking structure sites nearby.

The new stadium is about more than just football; it’s about the campus experience, University Regent David Metzen said.

“If it were all about football I never would have voted for it,” Metzen said. “It’s a heck of a lot of money for seven or eight games a year.”

The University was fortunate to receive so much funding from the state before the economy crisis hit, Metzen said.

“Could you imagine going over there now and asking for a new stadium?” Metzen said. “It’s going to be ugly at the Legislature next year.”