EAU CLAIRE – Gov. Tony Evers seeks to spend $2.4 billion on building projects across 31 counties in Wisconsin over the next two years, with nearly half of that going toward UW System projects.
However, Evers' 2021-23 capital budget proposal, released Monday, did not include the second half of funding for the planned new science building at UW-Eau Claire.
“The capital budget is an investment in the up-keep of our infrastructure for longevity and public safety and in the future we want to build for our state,” Evers said in a statement. “This capital budget will have a far-reaching impact on our communities and our state for generations to come.”
Of the nearly $2.4 billion proposed, $1 billion would be for UW System projects, including $116.7 million to build a new Science and Technology Innovation Center at UW-River Falls and $3.3 million for art and design studio renovations at UW-Eau Claire's Haas Fine Arts Center.
Evers said the budget would leverage historically low bond rates and also prioritize funding for corrections and health services facilities; state parks and forests; upgrades at veterans homes and improvements at veterans cemeteries; creation of a new $163 million state office building and parking garage in Milwaukee; and redevelopment of a block near the Capitol in Madison for a new state office building and home for the Wisconsin Historical Society Museum.
The Democratic governor's proposal must pass both the State Building Commission, which meets March 17, and the Legislature's budget-writing committee, which is controlled by Republicans.
One of the Joint Finance Committee co-chairs, Rep. Mark Born, R-Beaver Dam, said the Legislature's focus will be on funding necessary maintenance and repair projects.
"Sound budgeting over the past decade put us in a strong position last capital budget to make significant investments that stayed within our means," Born said in a statement. "While it won't be at the levels the Governor has proposed, we will continue to reinvest in our state's infrastructure to make sure our state continues to thrive."
State agencies submitted about $2.9 billion in requests last fall to address a growing backlog of deferred maintenance in recent years.
The bulk of the UW System money would go toward renovations, replacements and repairs to buildings constructed decades ago that are breaking down with increasing frequency and unpredictability.
UW-River Falls Chancellor Connie Foster issued a statement Monday expressing gratitude for the governor recommending funding of its new science building.
"We are very grateful that Governor Evers has acknowledged the value of the Science and Technology Innovation Center (SciTech) to our region and state by including full construction funding for this facility in his 2021-23 Capital Budget recommendations," Foster said. "Having received the $2 million in planning funds in the last biennium, we were confident that the state understood the impact of this new type of facility."
However, the governor's proposal would not allocate the remaining $147 million needed for the planned Science and Health Sciences building at UW-Eau Claire.
The science building, which would replace 58-year-old Phillips Hall, received $109 million in the current state budget. The second half of funding did not get into the UW System’s 2021-23 budget request, instead appearing in a long-range plan for 2025-27.
In the meantime, the campus building committee is working with the project’s architect/engineer consultant team on a full pre-design of the new facility, said Jake Wrasse, the university's legislative and community relations liaison.
Chippewa Valley legislators told Eau Claire Area Chamber of Commerce members in December that they were asking the governor to include the building’s remaining funding in the upcoming budget. The local chamber’s leaders sent a letter on Jan. 14 to Evers to reinforce the business community’s advocacy for the project.
The project includes approval for $13.7 million in philanthropic contributions. Mayo Clinic Health System has set a goal for philanthropy to support the cost of creating and occupying a 10,000-square-foot shared research workspace in the building.
The capital budget proposal also doesn't include $5.6 million requested by the UW System to provide planning and design services for UW-Stout to create a new, unified home for the College of Education, Hospitality, Health & Human Sciences within Heritage Hall.
"We are very disappointed that the Heritage Hall renovation planning and design project recommended by the Board of Regents was not recommended by the governor," said Doug Mell, special assistant to the chancellor at UW-Stout. "We will work with our legislative delegation during the capital budget review process to seek a suitable outcome."
Other west-central Wisconsin projects recommended for funding include:
• $14.1 million to build a new health services unit at Stanley Correctional Institution. This project would consist of a 26,075-square-foot building to provide space for health, dental, psychological, therapeutic and lab services to accommodate the needs of more than 1,600 adult male inmates.
• $4.4 million to expand and remodel the health services unit at Jackson Correctional Institution in Black River Falls. This project would involve building a 7,386-square-foot addition to the existing health services unit to serve more than 1,000 adult male inmates.
• $1.3 million to construct a 5,300-square-foot maintenance building on Wisconsin Army National Guard land in Chippewa Falls.
• $3.5 million to replace the nearly 50-year-old toilet/shower building and vault toilets at Lake Wissota State Park in Chippewa County. The project is intended to improve services for campers while reducing maintenance costs at the park.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.