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Launched in 2014 by journalist Sean Baker, Med City Beat is an independent news source covering government, business and culture in Rochester, Minnesota.

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Poised for growth, UMR explores its options

Poised for growth, UMR explores its options

"Bigger is not better. If we focus on the better, the bigger will follow.”

That’s a line from former University of Minnesota Rochester Chancellor Stephen Lehmkuhle that’s included in the 2014 master plan for a future UMR campus near Soldiers Field Park.

That approach — grow the program, then develop campus plans based on need — hasn’t changed, according to new chancellor Lori Carrell.

There are no “diminished expectations” for a campus,” Carrell said Friday. “We are not pulling back. This is what we’ve been doing all along — making decisions that are prudent for taxpayers and tuition payers, and being good stewards."

A new planning process is underway that’s a “continuation and expansion” of the original vision, she said. Rochester is changing quickly, thanks to Mayo Clinic’s growth and Destination Medical Center, and there are new opportunities for public-private partnerships in the DMC Discovery Square area.

An updated long-range plan may be outlined for the U of M Board of Regents in February, though the U's search process to replace President Eric Kaler may delay that. The plan will have “key phases and expectations for necessary investment” in Rochester.

 UMR Chancellor Lori Carrell

UMR Chancellor Lori Carrell

At or near the top of the list for campus investment: housing for students. “We’re really pressed for housing,” with only enough room in the 318 Commons building for first-year and some second-year students. “We need more beds."

Carrell was in Washington, D.C., this week to gather information and feedback for the long-range plan and was at the Capitol Thursday to meet with Sen. Amy Klobuchar. As it turned out, Klobuchar was caught up in the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. “It was quite an experience” to be in the building on a historic day with “democracy in action,” she said.

Plans for a campus, which were first outlined in 2009, always have been contingent on the support of U of M administrators, the Board of Regents and most likely the Legislature. The 2014 plan was more explicit about a proposed 10-acre campus near Soldiers Field, between South Broadway and roughly Second Avenue Southwest. UMR has been acquiring the needed real estate, paid for with $14 million from Rochester’s half-cent local option sales tax.

In fact, UMR’s ambitions for a campus were integral to the campaign to win voter approval of the $139.5 million local option sales tax in 2013.

Still, the plan included few dates or cost estimates. It anticipated construction of the “first academic building” within six to eight years. That may not be in the cards now, but UMR has leased about 9,000 square feet of space in the first building to go up in the Discovery Square district.

Being part of the One Discovery Square project is the type of public-private collaboration UMR has talked about from the beginning, and a step toward developing a new type of campus.

“Sharing space and maximizing space where we can with mission-aligned organizations” is among the ways plans are evolving, Carrell said. “There are many things that are happening with DMC developers that are being attracted here. It’s a very vibrant time and we’re going to explore all options."

Among other changes in the area that have affected campus planning: New ownership at the Rochester Area Family Y. The Y is just across First Avenue from the campus area, was involved in the 2014 master planning, and is a factor in what UMR hopes to do in the area. There now may be new opportunities.

The 2009 master plan said partnerships with other institutions were crucial for UMR’s future campus development. “Higher education can no longer stand apart, but must be collaborative and partnership-driven,” it says.

That type of collaboration is at the heart of UMR’s mission, Carrell said. “We have taken a very responsible and innovative approach to expansion. We will see expansion of facilities following the expansion of programs and career pathways.”

Jay Furst is a Rochester journalist who has covered the area for 24 years. Send email to jpfurst@gmail.com.

Cover photo: Rendering from 2014 of proposed UMR campus

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