The Arizona Desert Lamp

Construction, done correctly

Posted in Campus by Evan Lisull on 9 January 2009

If you thought the recently killed $1 billion construction “stimulus” package was bad, you ain’t seen nothing yet:

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — An army of ironworkers, masons, carpenters and laborers are swarming the campus of the University of Michigan these days, as the university undertakes a construction campaign budgeted at $2.5 billion, ranking it among the largest university building programs in the United States.

Nine major buildings for science, medicine, health, art, business, sports, food service and student housing are in various stages of construction here. They encompass nearly three million square feet, at a cost of about $1.66 billion. Five others are in the design stage.

This comes after the completion in the last two years of 10 other buildings — for biomedical research, cardiovascular treatment, science, technology, engineering, public health, public policy and drama — covering 1.7 million square feet at a cost of $836.4 million. The square footage in the new and renovated buildings comes to the equivalent of 105 acres.

At first blush, such spending seems outrageous, especially when taxpayers in the other forty-nine states are footing the bill for the GMAC bowl, among other inferior products. There’s a reason, however, why U. Michigan can have nice things — they pay for it with their own money:

Still, its construction program proceeded apace even as state funds steadily diminished. For its 24 projects, the university says it has received just $20 million from the state of Michigan for three of the projects. The rest were financed with donor gifts, bonds and operating revenue.

. . .

Jerry A. May, the vice president for development, led an eight-year capital campaign, recently completed, that raised $3.11 billion, a record for public universities in the United States, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education. More than 360,000 of the university’s 439,000 living alumni contributed.

It’s kind of like the GM/Chrysler story in reverse: the UM started out completely dependent on state money, then gradually become a successful institution and largely independent of the state. The allocated $20 million is obviously questionable (especially since the state has been plagued with budgetary issues for years), but by and large these projects provide a path forward for the UA, among other large public institutions.

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