A legislative committee voted in favor of a bill Wednesday to advance planning for a new engineering building at the University of Wisconsin-Madison after lawmakers had cut the project from the state’s latest two-year budget.
The state Assembly’s Committee on Colleges and Universities unanimously gave its approval to directing the State Building Commission to spend $1 million on planning and design work for the proposed project, which has seen various recent stops and starts. Gov. Tony Evers had set aside money for the first phase of the project in his biennial budget request last year only to see Republicans lawmakers eliminate those plans as part of reducing Evers’ capital budget request from $2.4 billion to $1.5 billion. The 340,000-square-foot project is expected to cost about $300 million and will come as a replacement UW-Madison’s engineering building, which was built in 1938.
At the meeting Wednesday, one Democratic lawmaker raised concerns about the legislative procedure being used to advance the project. Rep. Katrina Shankland, D-Stevens Point, noted that it’s unusual for such a proposal to be moving ahead through the Legislature instead of the state Building Commission.
“I think it’s important to recognize that the building commission process has changed fairly drastically over the last few years,” Shankland said. “While I’m supporting this bill, I hope we don’t see a future need for bills for individual projects when we could be doing more through the budget process to enumerate more buildings.”
In testimony on the bill, Ian Robertson, dean of UW-Madison’s college of engineering, said the project will allow the school to accommodate 5,500 undergraduate engineering students, up from 4,500 now. What’s more, he said, it will help retain and attract new faculty.
Robertson said the engineering school plans to seek money for the project in the state’s 2023-2025 biennial budget. State government would put $150 million toward the $300 million project and UW-Madison would raise the remaining $150 million from private sources.
“I think it is extremely necessary to have a new building for the College of Engineering,” Rep. Shelia Stubbs, D-Madison, said during the meeting on Wednesday. “I think our campus certainly attracts the top-ranking engineering students and faculty.”Follow @natebeck9