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U hopes for good bonding experience with legislature

By Rick Moore

From M, spring 2006

As this issue of M was going to press, the 2006 Minnesota State Legislature was preparing to meet and exchange election-year pleasantries for the first time. At the top of its agenda is determining the state's bonding bill--which provides assistance for building and renovation projects for public entities, including the University of Minnesota.

This year, the University is seeking $206.1 million from the state to maintain and update existing facilities and to build a number of new buildings. Counting its own contribution of one-third the cost of new construction, the U's total 2006 capital request is for $269.1 million.

As is usually the case, the largest portion ($80 million) of the U's request is for what's known as "HEAPR," or Higher Education Asset Preservation and Replacement; in other words, building upkeep and upgrades. HEAPR funds will be used for nearly 150 projects spanning health and safety improvements, building system improvements, and utility infrastructure.

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Business education is another focal point of the University's request. The U is seeking funding for a $39.9 million expansion of the Carlson School of Business on the Twin Cities campus. The new space will help meet the growing demand for business graduates--the school is currently only able to serve 12 percent of applicants--and provide a new home for the Department of Economics. In Duluth, a new building ($23 million) is proposed for the Labovitz School of Business and Economics, which also has outgrown its current space.

Two other new buildings are proposed for the Twin Cities campus: a Science Teaching and Student Services Center ($62 million), which would be located on the site of the current Science Classroom Building at the head of the Washington Avenue Bridge; and a Medical Biosciences Building ($60 million), which would be constructed adjacent to the Center for Magnetic Resonance Research and allow for the expansion of crucial research programs.

The request also includes $4.2 million in funding for three research centers and field stations: the Cedar Creek Natural History Area, Cloquet Forestry Center, and West Central Regional Outreach Center.

In mid-January, Governor Tim Pawlenty announced his recommendations for the state's bonding bill, which covered $127.6 million of the U's $206.1 million request. Pawlenty's recommendation would provide only half of the U's request for HEAPR, would not provide any funding for research centers and field stations, and would fund only $4.3 million in planning costs of the new biosciences building.

The governor's recommendation serves as a starting point for the Minnesota Legislature. The House and Senate will now develop their own versions of a bonding bill, which will then be reconciled into one and sent to Pawlenty for approval.

"We're pleased the governor is supporting some very important, strategic investments in our students," says President Bob Bruininks. "His bonding bill is a good start, and we look forward to working with the legislature to build on it."