NMU board to invest in capital projects

MARQUETTE — The Northern Michigan University Board of Trustees in a special Thursday meeting voted to invest $90.6 million in capital projects, major maintenance and campus improvements.

These projects are consistent with the goals previously outlined in the campus master plan and the university’s strategic plan.

On Thursday, the board unanimously approved the issuance and delivery of general revenue bonds toward the full cost of the projects.

At a Wednesday NMU community forum, it was explained that funding sources for the projects are expected to come from state capital outlay funds totaling $20 million, donor funding of $10 million, capital and maintenance funds of $29.5 million and bond proceeds of $31.1 million.

“Timing is really what’s driving these investments,” said Gavin Leach, vice president for finance and administration, on Thursday. “We have a series of bonds that are expiring and we want to take advantage of the low interest rates during this limited window and reinvest in priority projects through a bond issuance without a major impact to the university’s budget structure. We can also refinance some of the bonds that aren’t expiring at the lower rate. This is an excellent opportunity to make campus improvements while the cost to the university is lower.”

Robert Mahaney, chair of the NMU Board of Trustees Finance Committee, recommended approval of the investment, calling the action “a milestone moment.”

“I do not apologize if I sound like a salesman here, because this is a great thing for Northern,” Mahaney said. “I hope that everybody on campus can celebrate this because it doesn’t end with this.

“By having new facilities, it gives us a chance to be more competitive in recruiting students. It gives us a chance to grow enrollment. All things begin and end with enrollment.”

The priority capital projects and associated costs are:

≤ transformation of the Jacobetti Complex into a career and engineering tech facility for $28.6 million. This was previously approved for $20 million in capital outlay funding from the state of Michigan;

≤ construction of the Northern Enterprise Center next to the McClintock Building for $19.1 million. It will provide a new, identifiable home for the College of Business and other academic programs currently located outside of the academic mall;

≤ modernization of the library in Harden Hall, $12.5 million. The second and third floors will be renovated and specialty centers such as All Campus Tutoring, the Writing Center and the Central U.P. and NMU Archives will be relocated;

≤ new science labs at $5.2 million, which will address the need for additional teaching labs for high-demand programs in biology, chemistry, psychology and nursing;

≤ a new Health and Wellness Center to improve the campus community’s access to physical and mental health services, $5.2 million;

≤ renovation of existing unoccupied space in the Northern Center to accommodate the cosmetology and hospitality management programs, $4.8 million. The two programs are currently located in the Jacobetti Complex;

≤ a new facility for the NMU Behavior Education Assessment and Research Center to better serve patients, improve instructional delivery/training for students and provide space for program expansion, $1.2 million; and

≤ McClintock classroom upgrades associated with the Northern Enterprise Center, $1.1 million.

Two buildings are slated for demolition. West Hall has been vacant due to its declining condition while Gries Hall requires significant long-term maintenance. The offices and functions within Gries Hall will be accommodated elsewhere on campus.

Major maintenance projects will include $6.5 million to replace the Berry Events Center’s existing ice-making system, which is more than 30 years old and whose required refrigerant is no longer available; $2 million to replace the turf in the Superior Dome; and $400,000 to construct a new 60-space parking lot south of the Northern Center to accommodate additional traffic for the cosmetology and hospitality management programs.

In the public comment period, Alexander Wilson, who is listed on the NMU website as an assistant professor of chemistry, said he was addressing the board as an “advocate for his students,” and noted the five-year strategic plan “only seems to focus on physical developments.”

Wilson asked, “What about a five-year strategic plan for faculty? For the last four years, my colleagues and myself have presented information about departmental needs.”

He expressed concern about what he considers the negative impacts on student learning.

“Students cannot get into all the courses they need for on-time graduation when in the classroom the ratio of students to instructors is too high for the type of learning environment they were promised during recruitment,” Wilson said. “This will be an enrollment issue. The faculty are frankly overworked and underpaid in my department, and I’m sure this is not the case only in our department but elsewhere on campus.”

NMU student Tedd Butler, who is studying to become a chemistry educator, also spoke to the board about the NMU faculty being without a contract.

The NMU-American Association of University Professors faculty and NMU administration have been at odds over terms of a contract that expired July 1.

Butler said he attended the Wednesday forum, where he learned about the $90.6 million in capital projects that were planned and the concern over decreased enrollment.

“At NMU, I can say that we as students see that there is absolutely no transparency between the faculty and their superiors,” Butler said. “Instead of thinking about making our campus look prettier with new buildings, NMU should look at giving their faculty a fair contract, and sometime soon.”

Budget approved

In other action during Thursday’s meeting, the board:

≤ approved a 2021-22 general fund operating budget of $118.2 million. That figure represents a 1.0% increase from the previous year;

≤ approved the following budgets: auxiliary services operating budget, $12.1 million; designated operating budget, $7.6 million; and housing and residence life operating budget, $10.8 million;

≤ approved NMU’s financial statements and all related transactions for the fiscal year that ended June 30. Rehmann CPA conducted the audit.

The next regularly scheduled meeting of the NMU Board of Trustees is scheduled for Dec. 9-10.

Christie Mastric can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is cbleck@miningjournal.net.


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