NMU forum addresses capital projects

Foundation-hospital partnership also discussed

NMU students and faculty fill the ballrooms at the Northern Center on the Northern Michigan University campus to listen to discussion on various topics at a Tuesday community forum. One of the main topics dealt with priority capital projects over the next three years. (Journal photo by Christie Mastric)

MARQUETTE — Priority capital projects totaling $90.6 million for Northern Michigan University were explained to the NMU community at a special Tuesday forum at the Northern Center.

A capital and financing plan was to be presented to the NMU Board of Trustees today in a special meeting livestreamed on YouTube.

Gavin Leach, vice president of finance and administration, talked about the major projects at the forum.

The campus master plan, strategic plan, infrastructure and maintenance needs, academic programming, student enrollment and retention, and funding opportunities and other factors, he said, helped NMU identify projects that would move forward in the next three years.

Capital projects that focus on student and academic experience are:

≤ Career Tech and Engineering Technology Facility Project at $28.6 million;

≤ relocation of hospitality management and cosmetology programs to the Northern Center as part of the CETF renovation project at $4.8 million;

≤ Health and Wellness Center, $6.5 million;

≤ new science teaching labs and office relocation at $5.2 million;

≤ Behavior Education Assessment and Research Center at $1.2 million;

≤ Northern Enterprise Center for the College of Business at $19.1 million;

≤ McClintock classroom upgrades at $1.1 million; and

≤ Lydia M. Olson Library at Harden Hall, $12.5 million.

Major maintenance projects to address critical needs are:

≤ Berry Events Center ice-making equipment replacement at $6.5 million;

≤ Superior Dome turf replacement at $2 million; and

≤ campus roads, parking and utilities at $400,000.

“Whether it’s any building or any type of equipment you’re running, it deteriorates the minute you start (using) them,” Leach said. “In this case, with the ice-making equipment, it’s 32 years old now. It’s at the end of (its) life.”

He did express concern over the price tag.

“I really don’t like the $6.5 million, but it is what it is,” Leach said. “We’ve done a number of estimates trying to reduce that cost.”

Work on the Superior Dome turf also has been identified.

“This will be the second time we’ve had to replace it in 30 years,” he said. “When it gets to a certain point, you start to be concerned about potential injuries and utilization of the field.”

Planned demolitions are Gries Hall at $1.5 million and West Hall at $1.2 million.

Progress has started on the most expensive project.

“One is already underway, that is part of a state capital outlay project — Career Tech and Engineering Technology Facility programs,” Leach said. “Many of you know it as the Jacobetti Complex on the north side of campus.”

Leach said the project involves renovating a facility that’s 42 years old.

“It’s currently five football fields under one roof, so there’s a lot of maintenance that goes into that facility,” said Leach, who noted the renovation project would reduce the square footage of the facility by 25% and thus reduce the annual operating costs by $240,000.

Leach acknowledged that more science labs on campus are needed, and various alternatives are being looked at, such as making an addition to Weston Hall and using existing space in the West Science Building and the commons area at Whitman Hall.

The suggestion regarding Whitman Hall, which houses the Center for Native American Studies, met with a lot of resistance from some members of the NMU community who gave public comments at the forum indicating this part of the campus should be left alone. However, Leach stressed the plan was not definite yet.

Leach also addressed hospitality management and cosmetology programs being moved to the Northern Center.

“We also have unoccupied space that is available for the cosmetology program,” Leach said. “Both of those would create greater access to the community to those programs, and utilize unoccupied space and ultimately enable us to reduce the square footage in the Jacobetti Complex and actually our overall carbon footprint of the university.”

The projects also involve bringing the College of Business into the Academic Mall, which has been discussed for quite a few years, said Leach, who called the Northern Enterprise Center a “beacon” for enhancing enrollment and the student experience for business students.

Leslie Warren, dean of library and instructional support, said, “Harden Hall was built in the late 1960s. If you walked through the library in the last 50 years, you’ve seen the same shelving. You’ve seen a lot of the same space.”

The building, she said, also was built before NMU became a “laptop campus.”

“It’s time for our library to show that we are a strong, creative and scholarly facility and our library reflects that and who we are,” Warren said. “It encourages us to study, to be creative, to be good citizens through its sunlight, through its collaborative space and through its space that allows for individual or collaborative study.”

Dean of Students Chris Greer mentioned the need for student retention.

“We know the demographic cliff is going to hit us in 2025-26, ’26-’27, we will almost definitely have a drop in new students, and because of that, we need every student that we can bring here,” Greer said. “We want our students to connect to us, be retained and successfully complete their degree.

“These projects will provide a better learning experience for our students, and that should equal higher retention.”

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.

Leach said the next steps involve the NMU Board of Trustees approving a bond plan for the projects. Once the bonds are received, 85% of those bonds have to be spent within three years.

Partnership questioned

The Northern Michigan University Foundation is working with UP Health System – Marquette and other partners toward the development of the former hospital campus along College Avenue, which is adjacent to the campus.

The Marquette Brownfield Redevelopment Authority on Oct. 21 agreed to allocate up to $52,900 from the Local Brownfield Revolving Fund to the foundation for activities such as due diligence and pre-demolition surveys, among other actions.

The terms of the agreement, according to David Nyberg, executive director of business engagement and economic development at NMU, are confidential.

At the forum, Nyberg talked about the issue, which resulted in a lot of concern expressed by audience members.

He said the foundation initiated a conversation with hospital leadership in January 2020. The due diligence period, which will run through the end of February, will involve studying the financial feasibility of demolishing the complex as well as the financial and practical feasibility of redeveloping the property to benefit the overall Marquette community and NMU.

If the results show the plans are feasible, the foundation will take possession of the property and solicit a request for qualifications for master developers, Nyberg said.

“The NMU Foundation would then enter into a private-developer partnership with a limited role as an equity investor in the project for the purpose of advancing mutually beneficial outcomes for the city, community and Northern Michigan University,” Nyberg said. “A very important point: This would be a private development that may complement the NMU campus master plan, but it will not owned by the NMU Foundation or the university.”

He also indicated that the work is being executed without the use of donor funds.

“The mission of the NMU Foundation is to establish and foster relationships to generate resources that benefit the strategic goals of Northern Michigan University,” Nyberg said.

A concern was expressed over the Veridea Group — which In 2019 backed out of a purchase agreement of the former hospital campus after it discovered significant issues during due diligence — being in the running to be a developer of the former hospital property.

“We’ve asked Veridea to be provide pro bono consulting services on the pre-construction due diligence because NMU Foundation is not a developer,” Nyberg said. “We don’t have the expertise in that type of work, and recognizing that Veridea did do an enormous amount of work on the site before, we asked them if they would consider providing those services to us.”

Nyberg said any master developer would be eligible for a request for qualifications.

When asked how the project would benefit the students, Nyberg acknowledged that possibly his biggest worry is that too-high expectations are being set that something will happen.

“We’re conducting pre-construction due diligence to evaluate and have a better understanding of what needs to be happen at that site in order to redevelop it,” Nyberg said. “I will say that NMU Foundation’s interest in this is to make sure that that project does not continue to deteriorate over time in way that diminishes opportunities at NMU.”

He said any type of development the NMU Foundation will support will “100%” need to benefit the mission of NMU, including students.

The development could include “much-needed” housing for Marquette and NMU, community green space, and arts and culture amenities, Nyberg said, and would be factors into complementing the NMU campus master plan.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper *

Starting at $4.62/week.

Subscribe Today