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Friday, June 02, 2023
Engineering Hall exterior
Evers' capital budget proposal included $347.3 million for a new, 340,000 square-foot engineering building on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, estimated for completion in 2028.

UW-Madison engineering building, sports complex in limbo after Republicans reject state building projects

Republicans on the Wisconsin State Building Commission voted Thursday to reject $3.8 billion in state construction projects proposed by Gov. Tony Evers.

Nearly $3.8 billion in proposed state infrastructure projects — including a new University of Wisconsin-Madison engineering building — fell into uncertainty Thursday after Republicans on the State Building Commission rejected Gov. Tony Evers’ capital budget recommendations.

Released last month, Evers’ 2023-25 Capital Budget allocated $1.8 billion for improvement projects across UW System campuses. For UW-Madison, the plan included $347.3 million to replace the engineering facility on 1410 Engineering Drive with a 340,000-square-foot building and $285.2 million to replace the Camp Randall Sports Center (The Shell) with a new indoor sports facility.

Evers’ plan also included $39.7 million to renovate UW-Madison’s Music Hall ahead of the proposed relocation of the La Follette School of Public Affairs, $169.1 million to move the Art Department out of the Mosse Humanities Building, and $79.2 million for renovations and additions to Kronshage, Jorns and Humphrey Residence Halls.

However, the State Building Commission deadlocked 4-4 along party lines Thursday, rejecting each of the governor’s projects as they did during the last two budget cycles.

Rep. Robert Wittke (R-Racine), a member of the State Building Commission who voted against Evers’ recommendations, said the votes were “procedural” in a statement Thursday.

“We will continue to work through each capital budget item in depth, make site visits as time allows and have discussions with stakeholders during the coming weeks,” he added.

While the projects aren’t dead, their fate now lies with the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee, which has a Republican majority. The committee will develop its own plan for state construction projects later this spring.

Evers estimated his projects would create $6.8 billion in economic impact and add 45,000 jobs. Unlike past budgets, most projects would be funded by cash from Wisconsin’s record-high $7.1 billion projected budget surplus rather than taxpayer borrowing.

“While Republican leaders claim to support these goals, their action today shows that they would simply rather play politics than have a meaningful discussion about how these projects would serve the needs of the folks they represent,” Evers said in a statement Thursday. 

Two Republican lawmakers on the commission — Sen. Andre Jacque (R-De Pere) and Rep. Rob Swearingen (R-Rhinelander) — were not immediately available for comment.

Campus buildings in need of repair, UW leaders say

Despite Thursday’s setback, UW-Madison leaders remain ready to demonstrate the “vital need” for campus building projects through future conversations with state lawmakers and members of the Joint Finance Committee, according to university spokesperson Kelly Tyrrell.

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University leadership advocated for a new engineering building as far back as 2021 when former UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank and former UW System President Tommy Thompson called attention to aging facilities.

More than half of UW System buildings were constructed during or before the 1970s, and many require significant repairs or renovations to continue functioning as safe and effective learning environments, according to UW System President Jay Rothman.

“Our efforts to meet the workforce demand for nurses, engineers, data scientists, educators and more will be impeded if we don’t have the necessary infrastructure at our universities,” Rothman said Thursday in remarks to the State Building Commission. “The decisions we make now will define Wisconsin's future and its economic vibrancy [five], 10 and 20 years from today.”

Proposed upgrades to Kronshage, Jorns and Humphrey Halls would update dorm bathrooms and improve water heating in Kronshage, an issue students said means some showers don’t run hot water. An elevator was also proposed to make more than half of Kronshage units accessible for people with disabilities.

“It is clear that these projects are sorely needed at UW campuses and at state-owned facilities across Wisconsin,” said Rep. Jill Billings (D-La Crosse) in a statement Thursday.

Billings, who voted in favor of Evers’ projects on the State Building Commission, said she was “disappointed, but not surprised” Republican lawmakers voted to advance the capital budget with no recommendations. 

“Considering our record budget surplus, I am hopeful that the Joint Committee on Finance will recognize the need for these building and maintenance projects and we will see a healthy 2023-25 Capital Budget signed into law later this year,” Billings added.

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Tyler Katzenberger

Tyler Katzenberger is the managing editor at The Daily Cardinal. As a former state news editor, he covered numerous protests and wrote state politics, healthcare, business and in-depth stories. Follow him on Twitter at @tk_kutz.


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