MPR News: U, Minnesota State consider where to use new maintenance funds from the state Legislature

At session’s end, it appears that money for capital improvements at the state’s college and university systems came through, but at less than half of what colleges and universities originally requested.

Inside the $825 million bonding bill passed by the state Legislature, there’s around $208 million for construction, renovation and maintenance for public higher education systems — $129 million for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system and about $79 million for the University of Minnesota.

The biggest gap between what the Legislature approved and what schools wanted was in Higher Education Asset Preservation and Replacement, a pool that pays for maintenance projects on buildings and infrastructure.

Each system received $45 million for maintenance — that’s $85 million less than the Minnesota State requested, and about a third of what the U of M system hoped for.

“Any support is always appreciated,” said Matt Kramer, University of Minnesota’s vice president for university and government relations.

He said with less funding for maintenance, the system will have to make some tough calls. “If you only have x amount of money, we’re going to prioritize those projects that from a safety perspective go right to the top of the list. There might be other things like roofs or leaks or whatever, that we just have to say, ‘Look, we’re going to have to defer it another year.'”

The Legislature passed the bill Sunday, but Gov. Mark Dayton has not signed it yet. He has 14 days from the end of the session to act.

Elsewhere in the University of Minnesota system, the Crookston and Morris campuses are expected to receive $3.2 million to invest in modernizing student workspaces on campus. The Glensheen Mansion will get $4 million for upkeep.

The bill also gives the University of Minnesota $24 million for a renewal project at Pillsbury Hall, built in 1889. Kramer said the mostly vacant building will house the English department after remodeling.

Chancellor Devinder Malhotra said Minnesota State was grateful for the funding allocated, “Support is critical for Minnesota State to continue meeting our commitment to deliver the talent Minnesota needs to drive our economy.”

The Legislature also approved around $23 million for a project at Rochester Community and Technical College which demolishes some buildings and adds on to others. That project will renovate academic and student support space, update technology and deal with several safety issues.

There’s also around $22 million for a project that will tear down a large, antiquated academic building at Bemidji State University, parts of which are not handicapped accessible, and put a new, smaller building in its place.

“It really allows us to have classroom spaces that are much more able to accommodate individuals who have some challenges, but then also to help with that more flexible learning,” said Bemidji State President Faith Hensrud. She added the money will help update classroom technology.

The bill distributes another $38 million between projects at eight other Minnesota State campuses, including Minnesota State University, Mankato and Normandale Community College.

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