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Minnesota committee hears millions of dollars of bonding requests for universities, state agencies

(The Center Square) – The Committee on Capital Investment on Wednesday entertained requests for millions of dollars of asset preservation from higher education institutions and state agencies.

Senate Capital Investment Committee Chair Tom Bakk, I-Cook, said Minnesota should prioritize fixing and maintaining existing infrastructure, not creating new ones.

Minnesota State University seeks $150 million for 70 asset preservation and replacement projects statewide.

Minnesota State Associate Vice Chancellor Brian Yolitz said the university has a maintenance backlog of $1.118 billion. Deferred maintenance increased 63% from 2012 to 2021. Backlogged heating, ventilation and air conditioning controls and equipment needs total $360 million. Roofing backlogs are $199 million. Most buildings are at least 40 years old. Facilities’ components and systems have exceeded their useful lives and become obsolete, he said.

Sen. David Senjem, R-Rochester, said it’s important to consider trends of decreasing enrollment and how to increase enrollment as they make investments decisions.

Yolitz said the university has considered the trends and trends toward hybrid and online learning in prioritizing its funding requests but has observed students are more successful academically through in-person learning. The university is focusing on smaller, individual programmatic needs, rather than building-wide upgrades, he said.

University of Minnesota Vice President for University Services Michael Berthelsen said that his institution is seeking $685.6 million from the state. Four hundred million of those dollars would go to asset preservation and replacement for more than 140 buildings across the state. Their top asset preservation and replacement priority is an $8.5 million reinvestment in HVAC and code renewal at the Duluth Campus’ Humanities Building, which was built in 1956. The $685.6 million request also includes $140 million for a Health Discovery Hub and $72 million for chemistry undergraduate teaching laboratories. More than half of the university’s buildings are more than 50 years old. Six hundred million dollars have been added to the backlog over the last 10 years, he said.

House Capital Investment Committee Chair Fue Lee, DFL-Minneapolis, said the committee plans to use the state bond rating and interest rates to propose a “robust” bonding bill, Pioneer Press reported.

The Department of Natural Resources’ bonding proposal is $221.4 million, which includes $110.8 million for natural resources asset preservation. Commissioner Sarah Strommen said about one quarter of the DNR’s buildings are in unacceptable or poor condition. Deferred maintenance over the past 10 years is $68.2 million.

The Department of Corrections seeks $58.1 million in general obligation bonds and $5.174 million in cash for non-bondable components.

State agencies have asked for $4.2 billion this year while cities, counties and nonprofit organizations are seeking $1.2 billion, Pioneer Press reported.

Bakk said he anticipates setting a meeting with the Public Facilities Authority for the week of April 25 to discuss water and wastewater infrastructure. The state will need to determine how federal funding will fit in with transportation and public facilities expenditures, he said.

Bakk said he urges that in the budget year, the bonding committee should put forward an asset preservation bill to ensure those expenses don’t have to compete with “new shiny things.” Bakk announced in March that he’s retiring after this term, WDIO reported.


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