BY MEREDITH WATHNE
Officials at MSUM and other Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) are waiting for the Senate to make a decision on a bonding bill passed by the House Capital Investment Committee on April 2.
The bill includes $139.1 million in state financing and $54.5 million in campus funding, totaling $193.9 million for 20 capital projects across the state. The funds cover projects like building enhancements to facilities for business, manufacturing and trades; improvements to learning environments in science, technologies, engineering and mathematics; various training and preparation courses for educators and projects that support automotive and transportation on various campuses.
One of the most important chunks of the funds was set aside for Higher Education Asset Preservation and Replacement (HEAPR). Of the $193.9 million in the bonding bill, only $30 million was approved in the House, $10 million less than the $40 million suggested by Gov. Mark Dayton.
The HEAPR funds go toward life-safety issues on campus, repairing and replacing roofs, plumbing, electrical systems, heating, ventilation, air conditioning, fire alarms, elevators, windows, code compliance projects and other items that need to be updated.
In a press release sent out by the MnSCU chancellor’s office, it was stated that the bill passed by the committee includes $30 million in HEAPR funding, which is “not sufficient to address the $130.6 million in immediate repair and maintenance projects identified by MnSCU colleges and universities.”
Sophomore Yanis Tomko, legislative and MnSCU specialist for MSUM’s Minnesota State University Students Association chapter (MSUSA) said the lack of funds is due to a disinvestment in higher education as a whole.
“Since 2002, the state has been cutting funding for higher education that includes HEAPR,” Tomko said. “Also, it is difficult from a political standpoint to support HEAPR. It’s difficult to market HEAPR since it isn’t a glamorous or flashy project to contribute to. Constructing a new building on campus would be much better for a politician’s publicity than replacing an aging heating system.”
Vice president of finance and administration Jan Mahoney explained that each university predesigns their projects with an estimated cost and then a prioritized list is submitted to the MnSCU office.
“They compile a list of the top priorities for each campus to reach the $110 million system request,” Mahoney said. “This year the top four priorities for each campus were considered to arrive at the number.”
This year MSUM’s top priority is replacing steam piping, priced around $770,000. Besides the steam piping, there are 11 other projects on MSUM’s submitted list totalling nearly $10.5 million. Almost all are updates needed are in several different academic buildings on campus.
MnSCU has to somehow make up the funds it needs for the top priority projects. The remaining projects will be put on hold until the next state legislature bonding year in 2016. However, the state is hesitant to borrow too much money.
“The state has to pay the money back; bonds are sold by the state to fund the projects, and they don’t want to borrow more than can be afforded to pay back in future years,” Mahoney said.
After the Senate passes their bill, Mahoney said the next step would be to form a conference committee made up of both House and Senate members to determine a final number for HEAPR funds.