University of Minnesota pushes science in facilities request
MPR News, 10/1/2013
As University of Minnesota officials gear up to ask the Legislature for $233 million in funding to renovate and construct buildings, they’re driving home one theme:
It’s all about STEM — Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.
University government relations adviser Jason Rohloff told reporters during a campus facilities tour today that all but one of the major renovation and construction projects are connected to those fields.
Increased production of science-related degrees is one of the performance targets the U needs to hit to get all of its state funding.
“In order to do that, you need laboratory space that is suitable,” Rohloff said. “We’re hoping for support from the Legislature to deliver what they’ve asked us to do — and what we’re hearing from industry as well.”
At the moment, U officials say, outdated facilities are impeding progress in science research and teaching — even in those areas where the U excels.
University officials showed reporters several projects they’re hoping to get renovations funding for:
- The mechanical engineering department building (part of the system-wide maintenance plan);
- Tate Laboratory Building;
- Two labs — the U’s bee research facility and Aquatic Invasive Species Center.
(The two other big projects are at other U of M campuses: the Chemical Sciences and Advanced Materials Building in Duluth; and the Campus Wellness Center in Crookston.)
The common theme: Spaces are cramped, outmoded — and often not up to code for building safety.
University officials say that has hindered some research and possibly harmed recruitment.
Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center
Associate Director Becca Nash showed reporters where the center’s digs — a 1911 vocational training facility to teach the repair of tractors and farm implements.
She told reporters: “We are doing our research in a big garage.”
The facility needs about $6 million in renovations — much of it just to keep going.
Nash said the life-support systems for fish — such as heating, aeration and water filtration — are unstable, and the facility has no warning devices or electrical backup system.
Nash told the group: “If there’s a systemic failure, we could lose months if not years of research, equating to millions of dollars of research. .. We’re terrified that the well is going to break down any day.”
Nash also said her colleagues can’t do research on adult Asian carp, zebra mussels and new invasive species because they don’t have the proper facilities.
Also on the tour, U officials also discussed the need for $30 million in state funding for construction of the proposed Microbial Sciences Research Building near the Cargill Building on the St. Paul campus.