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Campus will bemodel partner for science and technology

By James Glaser

In the Feb. 16 edition of the Post-Bulletin, Stephen Lehmkuhle, University of Minnesota Rochester Chancellor states the Board of Regents approves the University of Minnesota Rochester’s master plan recommending a downtown campus with a "core academic and administrative area of four to five contiguous blocks" and a "generous allocation of campus open space," which "could take 10 to 20 years to establish."

I question the decision to locate a college campus downtown. Colleges (and students) need space! If the long-term enrollment goal is to hit 5,000 students, as reported, where are they going to find the space downtown for that many students plus "generous open space?"

Mr. Lehmkuhle even acknowledges that fact as a major challenge. I’m no developer, but I would think acquisition of downtown property and demolition of existing structures in order to build is much more costly than using undeveloped land for a campus. Since the college programs will focus on the health sciences maybe a building or two should be downtown for collaboration with the Mayo Clinic but the vast majority of a campus should not.

Rochester has had a small college on the edge of town for years. It was surrounded by plenty of open space to expand. Now most of that space has been taken up by youth sports fields. I would think it would be a whole lot cheaper to relocate sports fields than renovate downtown areas. In this day and age of tight budgets I would think the U of M and UCR would put politics aside and use our taxpayer dollars wisely.

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In order for a college to seriously provide a positive economic impact to our community it needs to be a permanent, resident campus with dorms and apartments to draw out-of-town students to live (and spend their money) in Rochester. A commuter campus, with people just driving into town for classes during the day then going back home at night or one that attracts mostly local people to go back to school in their spare time, would provide a much smaller economic impact.

There is already a student housing project being built downtown. What are those kids (and remember these would be 18- 19- and 20-year-olds) going to do in their spare time in an urban environment? When I was in college we had access to a fieldhouse, sports fields, tennis courts and open space to get outside and relax. Drive by any college campus in the fall or spring and you will see scores of students enjoying the outdoors. How could you do that in an apartment building downtown? College campuses need space and, eventually, any branch of the U would want a football team, basketball team, soccer team, baseball team, etc., as all colleges have (look no further than U of M Morris, U of M Duluth and U of M Crookston, to name a few).

Haven’t we, as taxpayers, already spent a lot of money building a fieldhouse and football stadium on a college campus already? Would we build a second set downtown? Because, after all, colleges need to have football on campus (how many millions did the U of M just spend building a football stadium to ‘return football to campus?’).

I find it ironic that Mr. Lehmkuhle mentions that Lourdes High School is interested in the university using their site. Isn’t one of the main reasons they are moving to the outskirts of town that they are landlocked and the cost of buying more property to expand is much more costly than relocating out where there is plenty of room?

One other big problem I see for a downtown campus with 5,000 students is parking. One of the biggest (and costliest) obstacles developers face with the city is who is going to pay for the parking ramp(s) with every new project. Where is space going to come from for 5,000 more cars each and every day?

I know our mayor is an ardent University of Minnesota fan, but are he and the city council blinded by maroon and gold to the point where they will approve anything (and commit our tax dollars) just to say they brought a branch of ‘The U’ to Rochester?

Don’t get me wrong. I think a four-year college would be one of the best things to happen to Rochester but I also seem to remember in the past our city council spending a lot of money on surveys for how to revitalize downtown. I could be wrong but I don’t recall putting a college there as high on the list. Is there a smarter way to proceed? Let’s think about this for a minute.

James Glaser is a Rochester resident.

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