2 priority UW-P projects deferred under Walker’s capital budget
PLATTEVILLE, Wis. — Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker recently recommended that two University of Wisconsin-Platteville projects totaling $79 million be deferred for at least a few more years.
Walker recommended $803 million in allocations in his 2017-19 Wisconsin capital budget, but that did not include funding to renovate a UW-P science facility or build a new engineering building. University officials have said both projects are sorely needed.
UW-P Chancellor Dennis Shields said he received no explanation for the deferral recommendation.
“We were really surprised,” he said. “The governor’s top priority in this 2017-19 biennium is workforce development. And those two projects are key to help aid the state workforce.”
The University of Wisconsin System regents considered the nearly $24 million renovation of Boebel Hall to be the system’s No. 1 renovation priority.
Meanwhile, the construction of a new engineering building, called Sesquicentennial Hall, was the only new construction project the regents recommended be funded, Shields said. The $55 million project would include new instructional and research labs and classrooms.
“We’re providing almost a quarter of all the new engineers coming into the state of Wisconsin,” Shields said.
He said the addition of Sesquicentennial Hall would help UW-P solve space shortages that exist in the existing engineering building, Ottensman Hall, which was constructed in 1966.
A UW System independent evaluation determined that renovation of Ottensman is infeasible, Shields said.
The renovation of Boebel Hall would complete a two-phased project, the first of which was funded with university dollars, he said. It would include 17 laboratories, three classrooms and undergraduate research space, according to the project proposal.
The renovations also would accommodate enrollment growth and the development of new programs. The number of biology majors doubled to 443 students from 2000 to 2015, the proposal stated.
“Our biology program is an integral part of delivering health care and science-related workers in the state of Wisconsin,” Shields said.
Among the UW System projects Walker recommended was the renovation of residence towers and a former hospital complex at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, totaling $33.5 million and $52.2 million, respectively.
“We haven’t made an investment like that in southwest Wisconsin on this campus in more than a decade,” Shields said.
He said he will continue to discuss his concerns with lawmakers throughout the state budgeting process.
“The governor has indicated a willingness to invest in higher education, which is good,” he said.
State Rep. Travis Tranel, R-Cuba City, said he was “disappointed” with the governor’s recommendations regarding UW-P’s request.
“(I) will be working to try to get it included,” he said.
Wisconsin Senate President Pro Tempore Howard Marklein, R-Spring Green, echoed the sentiment.
“There is always room for optimism. The budget is a long ways from being done,” he said. “I’m certainly going to be an advocate.”
Steve Michels, communications director at the Wisconsin Department of Administration, noted the governor recommended $24 million for the Boebel Hall renovations in the 2013-15 capital budget.
“Because the project has already been enumerated, it can proceed in design without being enumerated in 2017-19,” he said in an email.
The dollars were enumerated in 2013-15 in a combined recommendation for the renovation of Rodli Hall on the University of Wisconsin-River Falls campus, but not for the full request of $32.5 million.
The dollars allocated by the Legislature were only sufficient to fund the UW-River Falls project, according to Doug Stephens, UW-P senior campus planner.
Regarding Sesquicentennial Hall, Michels said the “capital budget prioritizes investment in current facilities and limits new construction.”