University seeking student support for Folwell project

The University is requesting $23 million from the state for renovations to century-old classroom building.
October 19, 2009

Those lobbying for state funding to renovate one of the oldest buildings on the University of Minnesota campus are seeking student support to bring with them to the Capitol.
As part of its 2010 capital request, the University will ask the Minnesota Legislature to approve $23 million in state funding for the $34.5 million needed to renovate Folwell Hall. Faculty behind the proposal say student action is crucial in getting support at the Capitol.
“Students are the ones who are sitting in the classrooms,” said Daniel Brewer, chairman of the department of French and Italian, which is based in Folwell Hall . “We definitely want to give students as much of a voice as we can in this project.”
Brewer said the renovation directly impacts the quality of students’ education — last year, more than 12,000 University students enrolled in classes that met in Folwell Hall he said.
Kelly O’Brien, external relations coordinator for the College of Liberal Arts said the restoration would include physical upgrades to Folwell Hall. In addition to getting two new elevators, the building would also be more energy efficient in its heating and cooling methods, better use its available space, improve restroom access and provide an overall update to its mechanical infrastructure.
The building’s exterior was renovated in 2007.
Brewer estimated the renovation process could start as early as next summer and would take 12 to 18 months to complete. Classes would be temporarily relocated to various campus locations during the construction.
O’Brien said she hopes students will take an active role in getting Folwell funded. “They are the ones who will reap the great benefit of that remodel,” she said.
Spanish senior Danielle Smith said the biggest challenge in getting student support for the project lies in educating students about the issue and getting them to care enough to want to take action.
“The group that’s affected has the most power in changing it,” Smith said.
Each year, the Minnesota Student Association’s (MSA) legislative affairs committee hosts Student Lobby Day at the Capitol, at which University students gather to share their opinions with lawmakers. While this year’s event isn’t scheduled to take place until February, students are already preparing to present their case for remodeling Folwell Hall.
Paul Buchel, MSA’s legislative affairs committee chair, said as University state funding has been cut as a result of the economy, the Legislature’s priorities have shifted.
“We need to make sure that higher education, especially at the University of Minnesota, is a priority for the state Legislature and for the governor,” Buchel said.
The University asked the Legislature for funds to renovate Folwell Hall as part of last year’s bonding request, but the project was listed as a low priority and was not funded. This year, Brewer said Folwell is listed second only behind the University’s annual top priority — infrastructure maintenance and repair.
Also on the University’s wish list this year is funding for an American Indian learning resource center in Duluth, a physics and nanotechnology facility on the Twin Cities campus, research lab facility renovations and a new Itasca Biological Station.
As a part of the University of Minnesota Old Campus Historic District, Folwell is on the National Register of Historic Places, a program that recognizes landmarks worthy of preservation. Some other campus buildings in the historic district include Pillsbury, Nicholson and Burton Halls.
Before becoming home to the majority of foreign language departments at the University, Folwell housed a variety of University departments and organizations, including a German museum, the alumni magazine and the Minnesota Daily. Currently, about 130 faculty and staff work in the building and 800 undergraduate students’ majors are based in departments in Folwell.
Named for the first president of the University, William Watts Folwell, the hall was built in 1907 to replace Old Main, which burned in 1904. At the time of its construction, the project only cost about $400,000.

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