Rebuilding NMU

By MARY WARDELL

Journal Staff Writer

MARQUETTE – The campus of Northern Michigan University will be getting a facelift over the next five years, with plans for new residence halls, additions to the university center, upgrades to the Learning Resource Center, a Military and Veterans Education Center and more.

As part of its new alignment plan released in January, NMU will seek to invest up to $175 million in modernization and asset preservation through capital reserves, state capital outlay, bonding, private giving and public/private partnerships.

Capital outlay is money spent to acquire, maintain, repair or upgrade capital assets. Capital assets, also known as fixed assets, include machinery, land, facilities or other business necessities that are not expended during normal use, according to businessdictionary.com.

The investment comes at a time of declining enrollment and campus-wide budget cuts, but administrators say they are using cost-saving methods for facility improvements that will hopefully attract students while addressing maintenance and other needs.

The biggest investment – estimated to cost about $100 million – is modernized housing and dining facilities to replace the former married housing dorms known as Quad I, consisting of Payne/Halverson and Gant/Spalding halls on Lincoln Avenue.

“If you look at our Quad I facilities, they were built in 1964-65, they’re 52 years old and they’re nearing end of life,” Vice President of Finance Gavin Leach said. “So you need to look at ways to begin to replace those. What we’re looking at is working with a private developer on providing new affordable, attractive housing for our students, in a way that doesn’t – where we wouldn’t have to be issuing debt to make that happen.”

The LRC – containing the Lydia M. Olson Library – will get a transformation if or when the state approves money from its capital outlay fund. A $40 million project overall, NMU would have to match funding at $10 million against the state’s $30 million, Leach said.

“Again, that (LRC Transformation Project) would require state capital outlay, and you don’t know when those will be funded,” Leach said. “You have them on a list, and then the state over a period of time will fund that project, and they don’t define that time period.”

The new John X. Jamrich building proposal was on the state’s capital outlay list for four to five years before receiving funding, Leach added.

The Don H. Bottum University Center will be renovated with a new conference center and addition, at a cost of about $15 million. The UC was built in 1960-61, Leach said.

“We do set aside dollars to basically address long-term maintenance as well as renovations over a period of time as buildings age,” Leach said. “That one also is addressing student requests we’ve had over the years for a larger conference area. … (They) want an area to seat 900 students, so we’re trying to meet those needs and use the dollars we’ve set aside to address maintenance and modernization over time.”

A new business innovation center, at a cost of $10.5 million, will be funded either as capital outlay or private donor-based funding, Leach said.

The proposed Military and Veterans Education Center, to cost $9.5 million, will also be funded either as a state capital outlay project or with other state dollars, Leach said.

The final facility project listed in the president’s new alignment plan is updating the Jacobetti Complex – at a cost to be determined.

Becky Mead, president of NMU’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors, has criticized the administration for cuts to personnel that she said affect class availability, class size and NMU’s very high student-to-faculty ratio.

But she acknowledged the university’s difficult financial straits.

Mead said funds for facilities and capital outlay come out of different pots of money than funds for personnel and programming.

“Dr. Erickson has said several times that he thinks that … these new buildings attract students. But what I’ve heard most of the students saying is, ‘No, what we need are classes and teachers,'” Mead said. “So it’s not simple, you know, you can’t just shift money that’s restricted and designated for one thing over to another, but it definitely causes people to ask questions about priorities.”

Mary Wardell can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248. Her email address is mwardell@miningjournal.net.