The column below reflects the views of the author, and these opinions are neither endorsed nor supported by WisOpinion.com.
Wisconsin’s infrastructure deficiencies include aging rundown buildings across the UW System, the state’s economic and intellectual crown jewel. Recently a slab of concrete facade dropped off UW-Madison’s Van Hise Hall (named after UW President Charles Van Hise, father of the Wisconsin Idea). UW System President Tommy Thompson said: “More than half of the UW System’s (statewide) buildings were built in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, and many now require significant renovation work to ensure continued safety as well as to support continued excellence in teaching, learning and research.”
The UW System has been trying to get the attention of the GOP-led legislature and State Building Commission for years. A 2019 UW System press release said: “Investments needed to repair, renovate aging UW System buildings”. Wisconsin Democratic Governor Tony Evers’ capital budget request two years ago was initially rejected by the State Building Commission and later slashed. The pattern repeated itself on March 17 (before the facade dropped) with another rejection of Evers’ capital budget, including $1 billion for UW System buildings. These almost unprecedented GOP-led rejections or delay will only increase costs.
The UW System recently tweeted: “Van Hise Hall has exterior (facades) not unlike other buildings throughout (the) UW System that are aging and in disrepair. It’s why over 83% of our capital budget is for renovation and replacement. … Albertson Hall (UW-Stevens Point) and Cofrin Library (UW-Green Bay) face similar exterior issues and improving them is critical.” Governor Evers picked up the slack and ordered emergency repairs to Van Hise Hall. He criticized GOP legislators for blocking his capital budget request: “It’s disappointing … that once again Republicans have decided to play politics … .”
On March 31 (before the facade dropped) Thompson testified before the GOP-led state Senate Committee on Universities: “I want to recharge the Wisconsin Idea, the notion that the University has the responsibility to serve beyond the borders of our campuses. At its core, the UW System is about helping to solve Wisconsin’s problems.” He outlined how the UW System has responded to the pandemic on and off campuses – testing, opening up vaccine clinics and and using over 1,000 UW nursing and healthcare students to test and vaccinate.
Thompson also made a pitch for the capital budget request: “$1.3 billion in capital budget authority … . It is focused on repairing, renovating and replacing obsolete facilities at our universities. … Despite being a public university that directly serves the people of Wisconsin, we receive just 17% of our support from the State of Wisconsin.” It’s long overdue for the GOP-led legislature to step up.
NorthStar Analytics and previous studies have pointed out how UW-Madison is a major force in Wisconsin’s economy, creating over 200,000 jobs, paying $1 billion in taxes and sparking high technology startups. This is also true for UW-Milwaukee and other campuses. Thompson will make sure that state residents know that the UW System is an economic engine, but needs an infrastructure upgrade. He has no ambition except to help all of Wisconsin.
– Kaplan wrote a guest column from Washington, D.C., for the Wisconsin State Journal from 1995 – 2009.