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Guest view: Investing in infrastructure makes good sense

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Here in Minnesota, we know the value of taking care of what we have. We service an engine before buying a brand new car. We fix leaky faucets and re-shingle roofs rather than demolishing the house and starting over. It just makes good sense.

That’s what the University of Minnesota’s legislative request this year is all about — taking care of our existing assets and investing in what we already have. These are our needs, not our wants.

Our top priority is a $200 million state investment in Higher Education Asset Preservation and Replacement funds (HEAPR). It’s a big number, but it’s funding that we desperately need. Across our five campuses, 10 Research and Outreach Centers, and 87 County Extension Offices, the University has more than 29 million square feet of infrastructure. About half of our buildings are more than 50 years old and they require regular maintenance and upgrades.

HEAPR funding improves University facilities across the state. We need to upgrade electrical distribution systems, replace windows, install backup generators, improve HVAC systems, repair elevators, fix leaky skylights, and much more. These are nuts-and-bolts improvements that will keep our existing buildings strong, modern, and code-compliant.

What’s more, HEAPR funding makes good business sense. We can use HEAPR dollars quickly and put that money back into Minnesota’s economy. In fact, 99% of the 2017 HEAPR appropriation has been allocated to projects that are already complete or underway — and about 90 percent of our HEAPR projects are contracted to local businesses, which means significant construction workforce gains for the state.

Most importantly, our students need this investment. More than 270 current University of Minnesota students call Minnesota Senate District 28 their home, and they deserve buildings that are accessible, efficient, and up to code. Our students shouldn’t struggle to hear their professor over a noisy air conditioner or move to a different building to find a handicap accessible restroom. They shouldn’t worry about the validity of their research because the temperature of their laboratory is not adequately controlled. Our students deserve modern learning environments so they can go on to tackle Minnesota’s 21st Century challenges.

As we near the end of the legislative session, I urge Minnesota’s lawmakers to invest in the University of Minnesota so we can take care of what we have, invest in our students, and keep our buildings strong.

Kendall Powell, the former chairman and chief executive officer of General Mills, is the vice chair of the Board of Regents at the University of Minnesota.


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