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Legislature withholds approval for new UW–Madison Engineering building

June 1, 2023

University of Wisconsin–Madison leaders are expressing disappointment in reaction to the state legislative Joint Finance Committee’s decision to again withhold approval of a new College of Engineering building.

The project, which was expected to produce hundreds of new graduates per year in fields in which Wisconsin employers face acute need for additional talent, was not included in a final list approved by the Joint Finance Committee on Thursday, June 1. This is the second biennial capital budget that has failed to include this critical building.

“Today is certainly a sad day for UW–Madison, but the real tragedy is for the state of Wisconsin,” says Chancellor Jennifer Mnookin. “This building would promote the state’s economic development. It would create significant workforce opportunities. It would propel innovation. And without it, we harm businesses all across Wisconsin. UW–Madison will continue to fall further behind other states and competitors like Purdue and Illinois, which have seen significant enrollment growth and investment in their programs and buildings.”

“This project continues to be a critical priority,” Mnookin adds. “We will continue to advocate and work with legislative leadership so that UW–Madison and the College of Engineering can meet employer and student demand.”

The proposed project was the top priority on the UW Board of Regents list of building projects and included in a slate of projects proposed by Governor Tony Evers in the 2023-2025 state budget. Nearly half — $150 million — of the project’s budgeted $347 million cost was going to be provided by private philanthropy, further leveraging the state’s dollars.

The state had already funded $75 million to support a utilities project for the engineering campus in the most recent biennium, as well as $1 million in planning and design funds.

Employers across the state recognized the critical importance of this project. Many described the heightened need for more engineering graduates from UW–Madison. A diverse coalition of building, manufacturing and business groups collectively shared their strong support for the project, including the Council of Engineering Companies of Wisconsin, the Associated General Contractors of Wisconsin, Associated Builders & Contractors, BioForward, the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, Wisconsin Technology Council, Mechanical Contractors Association of Wisconsin, Plumbing Mechanical Sheet Metal Contractors Alliance and Wisconsin Pipe Trades.

The group represents the broadest collection of supporter organizations ever to weigh in in favor of a UW–Madison capital project.

“We hear repeatedly from employers across Wisconsin that more UW–Madison-trained engineers are needed in a wide array of industries,” says College of Engineering Dean Ian Robertson. “We have a responsibility to meet that need, but simply cannot do that without this building. Though we have committed to ambitious fundraising contributions toward the project, moving forward requires the legislature’s support. ”

Generous donors have already pledged many millions of dollars towards the project, reaching more than half of the ambitious philanthropic fundraising goal.

“But all of these donations,” Robertson explains, “are entirely contingent upon the state providing its share of the project in the 2023-25 biennium.”

“I’m very disappointed. This project is a critical priority for the state and its employers, and it’s frustrating that the legislature would not support it at this time” says Bill Monfre, a retired industry executive and member of the UW–Madison College of Engineering Industrial Advisory Board, who led the advocacy effort among UW alumni. “If we can’t find a way to move forward, donor funds will be withdrawn, costs will increase, and Wisconsin’s economy, employers and students will suffer. Postponing the engineering building beyond this biennium is not a prudent decision.”