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Collegiate trio faces split

By Matthew Stolle

mstolle@postbulletin.com

They say that breaking up is hard to do.

How hard? A Rochester higher education committee giving shape to a proposal for a new kind of university in Rochester is about to find out.

As it considers dissolving the management agreement that governs the University Center Rochester and allowing the University of Minnesota-Rochester to spin off into its own orbit, it has run into a new challenge: Dissolving the ties that bind the schools.

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What they are discovering is that the sinews that bind the University of Minnesota-Rochester to Rochester Community and Technical College, UCR's landlord, are made up of contracts, financial agreements and other documents.

On Friday, the 11-member Rochester Higher Education Development Committee continued to work on the recommendation that it will present to Gov. Tim Pawlenty early next year.

As the meeting was about to wrap up, RCTC President Don Supalla sought to focus the committee's attention on the complex reality that makes up the University Center Rochester. He appealed to the committee to include representatives from RCTC and Winona State University, the other two entities that make UCR, in its deliberations.

"I would encourage you (to do this), because I think it will benefit all of us. We collectively are going to have to sell this, and I believe the first place we're going to have to sell this is the university center folks," Supalla said.

The challenges will arise if the University of Minnesota-Rochester relocates to a downtown location, as the committee is considering.

One uncertainty such a move would create is the impact it would have on UCR employees. Both UMR and Winona State University contract for a "significant number of services," from a joint bookstore and library to a copying service.

"There's some huge ramifications for employment if the University of Minnesota takes their whole operation and moves it downtown," Supalla said.

The move would also leave behind 30,000 square feet of unused space at UCR. Another complication is the financial obligations UMR incurred when an $18 million wing to UCR's main building was built in 1993. The project added a science and technology wing, an atrium and administration space. The debt service on those bonds is being paid off to the tune of $150,000 per institution.

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Another factor to be considered, Supalla said, is the University of Minnesota extension office, one of the largest such offices in the state. The extension office is housed on the west side of the Heinz Center's first floor. It doesn't pay rent for the space it uses, just the cost of operating it. Nor does it pay rent to use the more than 100 acres across from the school.

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