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U of M prepares way for $100M health building

Funding for a new $100 million health sciences education facility on the University of Minnesota’s Minneapolis campus remains elusive, but the U of M hopes to be ready to pounce if and when state money becomes available.

That’s the reason for an estimated $7.6 million project that would renovate 32,500 square feet within the Phillips Wangensteen building, 516 Delaware St., Malcolm Moos Health Sciences Tower, 515 Delaware St., and the 717 Delaware building on campus.

The renovation would accommodate users of the VFW Cancer Research Center, 406 Harvard St., and Masonic Memorial building, 424 Harvard St., which are slated for demolition to make way for the new 138,500-square-foot health building.

Demolition could happen as soon as next summer if state lawmakers approve $66.7 million in funding for the new building. The U of M, which would cover the remaining $33 million, included the project in its 2016 state bonding request. The 2016 session adjourned without passage of a bonding bill.

In a request for proposals, the U of M said the demolition of the VFW and Masonic buildings could happen in summer and fall of 2017.

“Right now we are just proceeding with enough design so we know what the costs of these renovated spaces will be,” said Rick Johnson, the U of M’s director of special capital projects. “And then we can decide whether and when we proceed based on what is going on with the state Legislature related to the education learning center.”

Gov. Mark Dayton, who has cited the U of M building as a top priority, expressed frustration over the lack of funding for the project. In June he included the project as a must-have for a special session.

Talks on a special session broke down in August. The big stumbling block was disagreement over funding for the Southwest Light Rail Transit project.

Rep. Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska, chair of the House Capital Investment Committee, said the absence of bonding in 2016 pushes everything back. Projects up for funding in 2016 will be “back on the table” in 2017, he said.

“That means the table is crowded with projects that should have been funded,” he said. “The cycle has been interrupted.”

A $1 billion House bill offered $81.57 million for the U of M and $107.487 million for Minnesota State Colleges and Universities projects, but it left the U of M health education project on the cutting-room floor.

Torkelson said the project was a tough fit because of its high cost and competing needs on other campuses, including Minnesota State Colleges and Universities projects.

“It’s a very expensive project in the mix of projects that we have to consider,” Torkelson said Tuesday.

Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, the DFL lead on the House Capital Investment Committee, said one concern was a lack of clarity on how the health building would tie in with other health care facilities on campus.

“It was a hard one for us to understand,” Hausman said Tuesday.

The U of M said in its funding pitch that the health education project would replace more than 100,000 square feet of “outdated facilities that do not support fundamental changes underway in the education and training of health professionals.”

The project would include “active-learning classrooms, simulation centers, small-group rooms, a technology-rich health sciences library and learning commons, and spaces for student services and amenities,” the U of M said.

In its request for proposals, the U of M said the renovation project covers about 15,600 square feet in the Phillips Wangensteen building, 7,750 square feet in the Moos Tower, and 9,100 square feet in the 717 Delaware building.

The renovation project would have to be complete by June 1, 2017, according to the RFP.

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