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Water school project tests university budget

This conceptual rendering shows the proposed addition to the Great Lakes Research Facility building and improvements University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee officials want to make to the area for a new UW-Milwaukee School of Freshwater Sciences.    Photo submitted by University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

This conceptual rendering shows the proposed addition to the Great Lakes Research Facility building and improvements University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee officials want to make to the area for a new UW-Milwaukee School of Freshwater Sciences. Rendering submitted by University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Sean Ryan
sean.ryan@dailyreporter.com

The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee might not have enough money to renovate and expand the Great Lakes Research Facility.

The state approved a $50 million budget for the university to build a 125,000-square-foot addition to the research building in Milwaukee. The addition would be the first half of a new UW-Milwaukee School of Freshwater Sciences.

But the building and addition are large structures, and university planners envision a large central commons area to blend the old and new buildings, said Christopher Gluesing, assistant director of the UW-Milwaukee office of university architects and planning.

“It needs to kind of have a heart to it,” he said, “that holds it all together.”

Planners want to simultaneously build the addition and renovate the area of the old building that will connect to the central commons area, Gluesing said. That would ensure all four walls of the commons match.

Photo submitted by University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Rendering submitted by University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

But according to preliminary budget estimates, the work would push the project $10 million beyond the approved $50 million budget.

“It won’t be hugely obvious,” Gluesing said of the contrast between the addition and the old building. “Again, it’s an old tile factory, so it is what it is.”

The UW Board of Regents on Thursday approved spending $1.6 million to continue drafting plans for the project. During that process, planners will get a better idea of what the project will cost, said David Miller, UW System vice president of capital planning and budget.

“Right now it is looking like $60 million; not the 50 we have,” he said.

The university applied for a $15 million federal grant that would bridge any potential budget gaps, Miller said, and officials expect a response to the application by September.

“Plenty of time to know then what we are working with as we go into the design of the building,” he said.

If the grant does not come through, Miller said, the university must design a project within the approved $50 million state budget. If planners cannot meet that budget, he said, the interior renovation work is the most likely cut.

Miller said a more detailed design will be complete around June 2011, at which time the project will go back to the UW Board of Regents and state Building Commission for consideration.

The addition and interior renovation work are part of a master site plan that would convert property from an industrial appearance to one that looks more like a modern hub of research, Gluesing said.

The city of Milwaukee and We Energies have committed to improving the area around the Great Lakes Research Facility. The city committed to converting Greenfield Avenue into a boulevard in 2011. We Energies, which leases land across Greenfield Avenue for a coal pile, will push the pile farther from the street and build a wall to shield the coal from the university property, Miller said.

If the full $50 million is needed for the addition, the university will return to the Legislature later to request renovation money, Gluesing said.

“We can spend hundreds of millions of dollars over there over time,” he said. “But this time we only got $50 million, so we had to prioritize.”

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