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Democratic Gov. Tony Evers has requested more than $2.5 billion in his two-year building projects capital budget, with close to half of the proposed money going to upgrades and renovations at University of Wisconsin System facilities.

The 2019-21 capital request is about three times larger than the $803 million requested by former Republican Gov. Scott Walker in his 2017-19 capital budget request.

About $2 billion of Evers’ request would come from state taxpayer-supported borrowing.

State agencies submitted about $3.4 billion in requests last fall to address a growing backlog of deferred maintenance that Evers said was caused by a lack of funding in recent budgets.

Evers’ proposal must pass both the State Building Commission, which meets March 20, and the Legislature’s budget-writing committee, which is controlled by Republicans.

“At a first glance, the level of spending and bonding is alarming — even after the massive tax increases and spending hikes the governor put forward in his biennial budget,” Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said in a statement. “We’ll continue to review the capital budget proposal and discuss it as a caucus moving forward, but Senate Republicans are committed to protecting hard-working Wisconsin taxpayers.”

UW System

Nearly $1.1 billion would go to the UW System, nearly $900 million of which would be funded through new borrowing. That’s about half of what UW System officials requested in August.

Major university projects proposed for construction through state-funded borrowing include: a $129 million chemistry building at UW-Milwaukee, $83 million for the second phase of a science center at UW-La Crosse, $38 million for UW System-wide classroom renovations and technology upgrades and $35 million for System-wide utility improvements.

UW-Madison’s veterinary medicine teaching hospital, the only one in the state, was built to accommodate about 12,000 patient visits each year, but school numbers recorded about 26,800 visits in the most recent fiscal year. Evers proposes the state fund about two-thirds of a $128 million expansion and renovation of the school and hospital that would finish by January 2025.

“Our challenges are significant as we seek to update antiquated buildings and systems to ensure the safe and modern learning environment students expect,” UW System President Ray Cross said in a statement applauding Evers’ proposal.

About $393 million in university projects would be funded through program revenue borrowing, which is money accumulated through sources such as student housing and parking fees. Those projects include:

  • A $59 million renovation to UW-Madison’s Sellery Hall that would add two floors and about 250 beds.
  • A $78 million renovation to Camp Randall Stadium that would replace about half of the bleacher seating in the south end zone with field-level club space, including high-demand seats that could generate more money. The visiting team locker room and media center would be reconstructed. A proposed construction schedule shows the project would finish by December 2025.
  • A $126 million project would replace UW-Madison’s existing natatorium with a new recreational facility and pool that would include an adaptive fitness laboratory for the kinesiology program, basketball courts, ice arena, indoor track, racquetball courts and an expanded fitness center. Officials determined that remodeling the existing building would have been more than 50 percent of the cost of a new building.
  • A proposed $48 million addition to the Kohl Center would create an academic services and tutoring space for student athletes, much like the space already available in Camp Randall. The addition over the stadium’s loading dock would also create space for more offices and a nutrition center. Construction would start in 2023 and wrap by mid-2025.

Evers’ proposal for the UW System does not include a student health and wellness center for UW-Stevens Point or a new residence hall at UW-La Crosse, which the System included in its request last summer.

Evers requested $572 million for maintenance of state-owned buildings, many of which were built decades ago and are breaking down with increasing frequency and unpredictability. About $300 million of that would be directed toward the UW System, which is the largest owner of physical space in state government with more than 1,800 buildings.

At UW-Eau Claire, $109 million in state-funded borrowing would go toward the first phase of a new science and health sciences building to eventually replace Phillips Hall, a 1960s-era building where 34 percent of the university’s academic work orders are directed.

“I refer to (Phillips) as our Frankenstein building,” UW-Eau Claire Chancellor Jim Schmidt said. “It’s made up of many spare parts. We literally have duct tape holding things together. It’s a real need.”

Other agencies

About $873 million would go toward construction across all other agencies outside of the UW System.

The budget request includes full funding to revamp the state’s juvenile correctional facilities, providing $115 million to build as many as three state-run juvenile detention centers that will partially replace the embattled Lincoln Hills youth prison when it eventually closes.

Evers’ proposal fulfills most of the Department of Corrections’ requests to add space at its facilities; however, the governor rejected a $40 million request to build an 800-bed housing unit at the Robert Ellsworth Correctional Center, a women’s prison in Racine County.

Evers called for $21.6 million in repairs and improvements at state parks, ranger stations, fisheries and other facilities.

The governor recommended $18.5 million in improvements at state veterans homes, but he wants to defer Department of Veterans Affairs requests for a new $39 million veterans home in southwest Wisconsin, a new $6.5 million assisted-living facility at King, and $7.7 million in repairs of flooring and ceiling material in two nursing home buildings at King that the department said pose potential safety hazards. The department will seek federal funding for the projects.

Madison projects

The capital budget includes $100 million for a new, 100,000-square-foot facility for the Wisconsin Historical Society, including $30 million to be raised privately by the society before construction begins.

Under the preferred plan, the society would demolish its existing museum on Capitol Square and replace it with the new facility, which would more than double exhibition space, include state-of-the-art technology, and provide learning, meeting and flexible spaces.

“Wisconsin now has the opportunity to build a world-class history museum which will democratize our state and national collections,” Christian Overland, director of the historical society, said in a statement.

The state, the historical society, Hovde Properties and landowner Fred Mohs have long eyed redevelopment for part of the block that holds the current museum and surrounding properties for a new museum topped by $80 million to $120 million in private redevelopment with 200,000 to 250,000 square feet of commercial and residential space.

A proposed construction schedule would begin the museum project in November 2021 with completion in April 2023.

Evers’ budget also includes a previously announced $30 million grant to help fund a $77.4 million expansion of the Alliant Energy Center‘s Exhibition Hall that would transform the Dane County facility in the town of Madison into a “full-service convention center.”


State Journal reporters Riley Vetterkind, Steven Verburg and Dean Mosiman contributed to this report.

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Kelly Meyerhofer covers higher education for the Wisconsin State Journal. She can be reached at 608-252-6106 or kmeyerhofer@madison.com.