Across the state, the University of Minnesota has more than 29 million square feet of infrastructure. Half of our buildings are over 50 years old, and 20 percent are over 75. We need a strong partnership with the Legislature to maintain and invest in these existing assets for the students, faculty, staff, and Minnesotans who use them every day.

The largest component of the university’s legislative capital request - and our highest priority this session - is for projects under Higher Education Asset Preservation and Replacement, or HEAPR. These projects include maintenance upgrades for older buildings across the university’s five campuses, including the campus in Duluth. Our goals are clear: meet code; improve health, safety, and accessibility; and increase energy efficiency.

HEAPR projects are not flashy, but they’re critically important. Upgrading existing structures extends their lifespans, reduces operating costs, preserves historic architecture, and avoids more costly renovation or replacement in the future. HEAPR preserves our facilities, supporting the university’s mission for decades to come. It provides a high rate of return on taxpayers’ investment.

Over the last two years, HEAPR has funded dozens of projects across the university system.

At the University of Minnesota Duluth, we have invested in new electrical and fire and water systems and in new flooring at the Ward Wells Field House. Under our current request, UMD would receive $17.9 million in HEAPR funding from the Legislature for more projects.

We have other capital priorities before lawmakers beyond HEAPR, including funding for UMD’s A.B. Anderson Hall. It badly needs renovation. More than 4,500 students study in this building, but it needs important mechanical and life-safety upgrades, along with an improved HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) system.

We are grateful Gov. Tim Walz and the Minnesota House both proposed $150 million in capital funding for the university system. I urge lawmakers to invest in University of Minnesota students by keeping our buildings strong and safe.

Peggy Lucas of Minneapolis is a member of the University of Minnesota Board of Regents. She wrote this for the News Tribune.