UW Campuses Identify $5 Billion New Construction, Renovation Needs

University of Wisconsin System campuses submitted $5 billion worth in new building construction and renovation project requests to system leaders ahead of the 2021-2023 state budget process, but the plans might face resistance in the state Capitol.

Gov. Tony Evers has proposed $1 billion in new borrowing that includes a pared-down list of UW projects, but Republican leaders in the state Legislature have indicated that this is too much spending on construction.

During a briefing with reporters on Tuesday, Alex Roe, UW System senior associate vice president for capital planning and budget, said her office received 185 building and renovation requests from the state’s 13 universities and branch campuses. 

Roe said around half of all buildings on UW campuses were constructed between 1950 and 1970. She said this year’s capital budget request didn’t include any buildings, like student centers, funded with fees charged on top of tuition. Instead, Roe said the system requests building new laboratory spaces for high-demand science, technology, engineering and mathematics programs. 

“We’re in a competitive marketplace and it’s important to us that we have the right facilities to meet the needs of STEM students, workforce and to continue to grow,” said Roe. 

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Included in Evers’ $2.4 billion capital budget proposal are a new $117 million Science and Technology Innovation Center at UW-River Falls, $100 million for a new engineering building at UW-Madison and $93 million for the Prairie Springs Science Center at UW-La Crosse. 

When asked if the UW’s requests for STEM buildings indicates a shift in focus from humanities to science-related fields, Roe said the system has been renovating campus classrooms across the board during the past decade.

“Our labs have not seen that same intensity of renovation,” said Roe.  “They’re much more expensive to renovate than a classroom is. They have a lot more utilities, a lot more safety requirements so we’ve just started really to focus on that.”

Evers’ capital budget proposal, along with the UW System’s request, has already faced opposition from Republican leaders in the state Legislature. During a Tuesday press conference, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, panned the governor’s plan to borrow $2.4 billion for construction.

“There is nowhere near that level of appetite for borrowing to build office buildings,” said Vos.