Construction and renovation are inevitable parts of any college campus, especially one like St. Olaf which has been around for over a century.
In an interview with Director of Facilities Kevin Larson, Vice President for Business and Finance, Chief Financial Officer Mike Berthelsen, and Co-Chief Financial Officer Angela Mathews, Larson said that safety is always the main focus when deciding on what projects to prioritize. “We try to maximize the life of the systems that we have,” Larson said. “The best time to replace your roof is a year before it starts leaking.”
Over the last few months, in addition to projects such as roof repairs, installations of new air handlers in Christiansen Hall of Music, and work on the outside of Hilleboe-Kittelsby Hall there was a significant amount of work done to the Buntrock Plaza.
Larson said that Buntrock Plaza’s concrete was replaced to eliminate trip hazards, awkward steps, and a worn out drain system. “We looked at whether we could design this to make it better at the same cost or even at a cheaper cost,” he said.
In regards to Hilleboe-Kittelsby, although most of the outside work was done, plans to finish renovating were postponed from last June due to a rise of unexpected costs and long lead times.
A crucial component of planning and implementing these projects is the College’s budget itself. “Every year departments submit what their capital needs are, ” Mathews said. “Then we have a capital group that reviews and prioritizes those requests.” Any project with a life of more than five years and costs over $5000 dollars comes from a separate funding source and has to be approved by the Board of Regents. These kinds of projects include the building of New Hall, the President’s house, and the Hilleboe-Kittelsby project.
Some years see large amounts of spending such as on the Ole Avenue project while others do not. “That was a very big year; a lot of spending,” Berthelsen said. “Other years if we don’t have any big projects, we’re saving up for the next one.” For big projects the College issues debt so it can get funding from investors.
Future infrastructure plans include finishing the Hilleboe-Kittelsby renovations as well as building solar panels near the wind turbine. “Future capital investment decisions will be influenced by the campus strategic planning,” Berthelsen said. “President Rundell Singer is starting to work on what a new strategic plan for the campus will be.”