Gov. Tony Evers recently proposed a $2.4 billion dollar budget in Wisconsin building projects. About one billion of those dollars are specifically for UW system projects.
These additions include new engineering and humanities buildings at UW as well as the renovation of several other buildings across UW campuses. The proposal also includes funds for new government buildings and a juvenile corrections facility in Milwaukee.
Evers’ building projects are a part of his overall budget proposal which projects to spend $190 million more on the UW system and an additional $36 million for the Wisconsin Technical College System over the next two years. Evers’ proposal is $100 million more than what the UW system requested and $12 million more than what the technical colleges requested.
Evers proposed a similar sized budget two years ago but Wisconsin Republicans removed about $600 million worth of funding from that proposal. Now, Republicans indicate they will similarly cut this budget down as well, citing budgetary restraints caused by the pandemic.
Sen. Howard Marklein, R-Spring Green, called Evers’ proposal a “wish list.”
“There are some projects that are necessary, but there are also some projects that require careful consideration and thought,” Marklein told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “2020 was a transformational year. The way we work, learn and live has changed. Our capital priorities must take this into account.”
But, some campus buildings are in dire need of repair. The budget would give money to repair utilities along Engineering Drive, which are aged 50 to 100 years in some cases. If Wisconsin wants to remain a top-tier university, they must at least be able to replace antiquated infrastructure.
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The budget would also fund a new engineering building to expand the class of Wisconsin engineers trained each year. The new building would have space for 5,500 undergraduates to enroll, increasing current enrollment capacities by 22%. Training more engineers can only benefit Wisconsin and the country at large. A new building will also improve student education and attract the best faculty to work at UW.
The proposal also provides funds to construct a new building for the history and ethnic studies departments, whose offices are currently scattered among several buildings on campus.
The Mosse Humanities building has long been criticized for its deteriorating infrastructure and its awkward structural designs. A new building would be fitting for the nationally renowned humanities departments at Madison — such as the history department — which currently resides in less than ideal conditions.
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But, UW’s deteriorating infrastructure is not a new problem. The 2019 polar vortex caused damage to 28 different UW buildings — like the flooding of Vilas Hall — which diverted classes to other buildings for weeks.
David Darling, assistant vice chancellor for UW’s Facilities Planning and Management, said the damages are due to the aged and deteriorating infrastructure of many UW buildings. As of 2019, UW had $1.9 billion worth of deferred maintenance. Darling said this is because the campus does not spend enough each year on preventative maintenance.
Currently, peer institutions such as the University of Illinois, University of Minnesota and Ohio State University spend about 10 to 12 percent of their maintenance budgets fixing aged infrastructure, while UW pays only about one-third of that — approximately 4 percent.
Clearly, Wisconsin has lots of catching up to do in terms of replacing its aging infrastructure. While not the most attractive measure to increase the state’s budget during the pandemic, these measures are necessary to repair our campus’ buildings before new emerging issues cost taxpayers more money and interrupt student learning. Wisconsin takes pride in its university system and it should not damage its reputation with neglect of important maintenance.
In addition, the new buildings will only improve UW’s stance as a world class university. Investing in a new engineering building simultaneously means investing in 1,200 more engineers every year — something I think everyone should agree is beneficial for Wisconsin. Also, an improved humanities building will likely emerge as a new center of the university for housing dozens of new classrooms everyone on campus will utilize.
Evers’ proposal is forward thinking and necessary. His budget can only improve Wisconsin campuses for the better for all future Wisconsinites who attend them.
Hayden Kolowrat ([email protected]) is a graduate student studying Southeast Asian studies.