“A sad day.” Legislature nixes funding for engineering building; UW could lose millions in donations

Photo courtesy UW Madison College of Engineering.

For the second consecutive biennial budget, the state’s Joint Finance Committee has not approved requested funding for a new College of Engineering building on the UW-Madison campus in the state’s capital budge

University officials say the new building is required to produce hundreds of new graduates in fields where Wisconsin employers need talent.

“Today is certainly a sad day for UW–Madison, but the real tragedy is for the state of Wisconsin,” UW Chancellor Jennifer Mnookin said in a statement. “This building would promote the state’s economic development. It would create significant workforce opportunities. It would propel innovation. And without it, we harm businesses all across Wisconsin. UW–Madison will continue to fall further behind other states and competitors like Purdue and Illinois, which have seen significant enrollment growth and investment in their programs and buildings.”

Governor Tony Evers had included nearly $200 million for the building in his budget proposal, which was stripped out by the Republican-controlled legislature.

University officials said an additional $150 million to fund the project would come from private philanthropy. Nearly half of that has already been raised, but those donations commitments are contigent upon state funding.

“If we can’t find a way to move forward, donor funds will be withdrawn, costs will increase, and Wisconsin’s economy, employers and students will suffer. Postponing the engineering building beyond this biennium is not a prudent decision,” UW–Madison College of Engineering Industrial Advisory Board member Bill Monfre said in a statement.

The state had already funded $75 million to support a utilities project for the engineering campus in the most recent biennium, as well as $1 million in planning and design funds.

The decision to defund the project goes against hte wishes of many employers and business interests. A diverse coalition of building, manufacturing and business groups collectively shared their strong support for the project, including the Council of Engineering Companies of Wisconsin, the Associated General Contractors of Wisconsin, Associated Builders & Contractors, BioForward, the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, Wisconsin Technology Council, Mechanical Contractors Association of Wisconsin, Plumbing Mechanical Sheet Metal Contractors Alliance and Wisconsin Pipe Trades.

The capital budget approved by the Joint Finance Committee Thursday included several other university building projects, including $285 million for a Camp Randall Sports Center replacement at the UW-Madison, $231 million for a science building at UW-Eau Claire, $58 million for residence halls at UW-Oshkosh, $139 million for renovations to the UW-Stout’s Heritage Hall and nearly $11 million for the dentistry school at the private Marquette University.

The budget now must be approved by the full legislature. Several UW officials and Democratic legislators said they would continue to advocate to fund the engineering building.