Proposed budget includes $35 million for UW-W projects
Half the money would be used to renovate the former business building that's stood vacant for nearly two years.
Walker's capital budget released Monday recommends more than $300 million for projects throughout the UW-System. UW-W's Carlson Hall topped the list, giving university officials hope the $17 million renovation would garner support in the Legislature.
"I would say I was delighted (and) a little surprised that it happened so soon," said Mary Pinkerton, dean of the UW-W College of Letters and Sciences. "We've been close to the top of the list for awhile, and it hasn't been approved. I didn't realize this was coming."
Carlson Hall has been vacant since the College of Business Education moved in 2009 to its new home in Hyland Hall. The university planned to renovate Carlson Hall and use it to house the College of Letters and Sciences.
The project was included in former Gov. Jim Doyle's 2009-11 proposed budget but didn't make the final cut.
Other projects recommended by Walker that would affect UW-W include:
-- $4.6 million to remodel Drumlin Hall. This includes remodeling the kitchen and dining area, renovating the second-floor balcony and replacing windows. The budget indicates the project's main purpose is to convert it into an all-you-can-eat dining facility.
-- $12.2 million to renovate Bigelow and Benson residence halls. The project is designed to renovate dorm rooms and restrooms, address maintenance issues and install new elevators and windows.
-- $940,000 for an addition to Young Auditorium. Plans are to construct a 3,500- to 4,000-square-foot addition to include a dance studio and storage space, according to the capital budget. The university noted it does not have adequate classroom and rehearsal space for its dance program.
-- $5 million to upgrade and improve technology in some of the 1,600 general assignment classrooms at the UW System's four-year institutions and UW Extension.
Carlson Hall has not been significantly upgraded since it was built in 1972. The project would include remodeling study areas and labs, but faculty offices would occupy most of the building, Pinkerton said.
The proposal created debate last year among state legislators. Several capital projects throughout Wisconsin came in under budget, giving officials hope the Carlson Hall renovation would receive funding after all.
Former Rep. Kim Hixson, D-Whitewater, lobbied to move forward with construction, while Rep. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, argued the money should be used to pay down the state's growing debt.
Nass said Tuesday he wasn't opposed to UW-W's capital projects but rather wanted their approval to follow procedure. He said he believed legislators were supporting projects for political gain.
"The economy had headed south, and the extra money, just because it's there, don't spend it," he said. "We need to continue to follow the process, and that's been my long-standing concern."
Nass said he hadn't reviewed Walker's proposal in its entirety, but he believed the reduction in spending was carrying the state in the right direction.
The College of Letters and Sciences is spread among seven or eight locations across campus, Pinkerton said. Condensing departments is expected to create greater collaboration among staff and students.
"We're quite fragmented," Pinkerton said. "It's difficult to have a sense of identity and encourage interdisciplinary work."
She said the university already is planning for the renovation by working with architects.
Construction could take anywhere from 12 to 18 months.