Demonstrating its appetite to build and re-build despite the state’s and country’s current economic hardships, the University has proposed a $110 million renovation project for the G.G. Brown Laboratory Building to the state legislature.

(Will Moeller/Daily)
The University recently submitted a proposal for the state to cover some of the costs for $110 million worth of renovations.

The capital outlay request for the 2010 fiscal year calls for a project involving a renovation and addition to the building, located on North Campus at 2350 Hayward St. If approved, the state and University would both provide funding for the project.

In an informational item presented to the Board of Regents at Thursday’s meeting, Timothy Slottow, the University’s executive vice president and chief financial officer, wrote that the proposed renovation would increase research opportunities in the bio- and nano-technologies. He wrote that it would also provide economic growth for the region and the state.

“The Mechanical Engineering Department is consistently ranked in the top five undergraduate and graduate programs nationally in a field strategically important for revitalizing the state’s economy,” Slottow wrote in the statement.

College of Engineering Dean David Munson said the college has been discussing a renovation to the G.G. Brown building, which is one of the oldest buildings on campus, since he became dean two and half years ago.

Munson said the renovation is something that has been needed for many years to increase opportunities in the mechanical engineering field.

“In the case of mechanical engineering, it’s now our largest engineering program so they need more faculty and space,” he said. “In addition, mechanical engineering as a field has been moving rapidly in the fields of nano- and bio-technologies, and the G.G. Brown is not set up to handle that research.”

From 2002 to 2004, the G.G. Brown building underwent renovations to its chemical engineering laboratories and department offices. The total cost of that project was $3.1 million, funded by the College of Engineering.

Munson said the current project would benefit both students and faculty, with not only new research facilities but also new educational tools, including the construction of new classrooms.

“We’re certainly looking at transforming at least a part of the G.G. Brown building,” Munson said. “New classrooms that are far more student friendly. It’s not all about the research side. We also want to make a building that’s attractive for students, including more space for team projects.”

In the capital outlay project process, which has been in place for several decades, state universities in Michigan can submit proposals to the state each year to get funding for major educational projects, said Cynthia Wilbanks, vice president for government relations.

Wilbanks said that in the past, it was required that the university submitting the request provides 25 percent of the funding for the project, with the state funding the other 75 percent. But given the current economic downturn, proportions for project funding have changed.

“In more recent years, because of the constrained budget environment, those rates have been different,” Wilbanks said. “There’s a little more flexibility and negotiation of what the support might be.”

Wilbanks said the University submits a top proposal for a construction or renovation project as part of the capital outlay request each year. The state then decides which projects it can fund and which projects will be placed on a list for possible funding at a later time.

The G.G. Brown renovation and addition proposal was submitted to the state as part of the University’s capital outlay request for the 2009 fiscal year. The cost of the project was then estimated at $133 million dollars but was not approved by the state.

Wilbanks said there have been a number of smaller renovation projects to the University’s educational and research facilities in the past decade, including Mason and Angell Halls, which have been funded through the capital outlay program. But the University has not received “major capital outlay support” for over a decade.

“According to the state’s budget office, we are an old campus,” Wilbanks said. “In part, we’ve been able to maintain that long and useful life because we’ve received funding from the state.”

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