Tucked away on North Campus, the G.G. Brown Laboratory Building is in desperate need of a renovation. As a result, the Mechanical Engineering Department, which resides in the building, has been unable to add facilities and equipment to keep up with rapid advances in the field. Thankfully, a new proposal to renovate the building would allow the Mechanical Engineering Department to remain competitive with programs at other universities. And the renovations aren’t just helpful for the University. The state would also reap the benefits of a program that turns out highly skilled workers and attracts the brightest scientific minds and newest research to Michigan, giving our struggling state a much-needed economic boost.

The G.G. Brown Laboratories house the Mechanical Engineering Department, which is consistently ranked within the top five programs of its kind in the country in both undergraduate and graduate studies. The $110 million proposal to renovate the building, submitted to the state as a part of the University’s capital outlay request for the 2010 fiscal year, would create new research facilities for bio and nano-technologies. It would also include general renovations like more student-friendly classrooms. Typically, the state funds about 75 percent of such a project, while the University picks up the other 25 percent of the cost. But more of the project’s costs will fall to the University, according to its expectations.

Even if the state is unable to contribute the typical amount, the University must ensure that this project is brought to fruition. For the University, it’s critical that the department maintains its edge. A building that is equipped to expose students to the future technologies is more attractive to potential students. Churning out the best students trained in the most rapidly advancing fields increases the employability of its graduates and the marketability of the program. Advanced, cutting edge training for Michigan’s engineers is more important than ever, as employment in the auto industry becomes less and less realistic.

But keeping mechanical engineers up-to-date with technology is in the state’s best interest as well, because projects like this are an investment in the future of the state’s economy. With the auto industry suffering, the state desperately needs engineers who are equipped with the best training. A better building goes a long way toward attracting the best in the field to the University, which in turn benefits the state in the long run, in the same way that purchasing the former Pfizer Inc. campus and expanding stem cell research does.

At the same time, it would be overly optimistic to presume that the proposal could be approved unless the University is willing to foot a greater percentage of the project’s cost, especially since a similar proposal submitted to the state last year was rejected for obvious financial reasons. Luckily, the University seems aware that it needs to be flexible in the current economic environment.

For the benefits that renovating the G. G. Brown Laboratory Building are going to provide, $110 million is a reasonable sum to pay. It is necessary that the state and the University work together to find a solution for funding the project and facilitating the building’s long overdue renovations.

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