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The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee is seeking $129.5 million to build a new chemistry building that would replace its aging facility on the west side of campus.

Rendering of UWM’s proposed new chemistry building.

Plans for a new academic and research chemistry and biochemistry building are among the UW System’s capital project requests in its 2019-21 biennial budget.

The new facility would replace the current 46-year-old, 150,000-square-foot chemistry building at 3210 N. Cramer St. and is planned just west of the new Lubar Entrepreneurship Center North Maryland Avenue and East Kenwood Boulevard.

The project calls for a new 130,000-square-foot building that would include labs for undergraduate STEM research and would create collaborative areas allowing for the sharing of specialized equipment.

The university has known it’s needed a new chemistry building since 2010 but higher priority projects, such as the Northwest Quadrant renovation, have taken precedence in recent years, said Geoff Hurtado, associate vice chancellor of facilities planning and management for UWM. The new chemistry building is UWM’s top priority in the upcoming UW System budget, following a recently-completed study that “solidly documented” the need for a new building, he said.

“This building was built in a different time when the codes were different,” Hurtado said. “The structural capacity of the building is half of what it should be. I’m quick to add that nobody is in danger but … when you have very sensitive equipment in there and it’s vibration sensitive or if there’s harmonic motion, you do need a different infrastructure.”

The $129.5 million in taxpayer borrowing would include the cost of constructing the new building, as well as extending the utility systems from the Kenwood Interdisciplinary Research Center to the new facility.

With more than 2,400 students taking undergraduate chemistry during the academic year, officials said the current facilities limit course capacity.

“If you want a career in the natural sciences, health, nursing, and many engineering disciplines, you have to take chemistry,” Hurtado said. “It’s not just for the chemistry majors, it’s for all the other STEM disciplines. Without chemistry, a lot of our programs would be hurt.”

Also included in the UW System budget proposal is UWM’s $35 million request to make repairs to and renovate portions of its student union. The project, which is expected to cost $40.7 million in total, is aimed at addressing the most pressing maintenance needs for the 328,000-square-foot building. The remaining $5.7 million will be financed in cash.

UWM’s student union dates back to 1956 and portions of the building are anywhere between 32 and 56 years old. UWM has worked with consultants three times over the past decade on potential solutions for the building, which has been given a “D” rating for function and “F” for condition, according to the university.

The project included in the UW System’s proposed budget would address inadequate and inflexible study and dining areas, obsolete building infrastructure, limited accessibility, and structural system inadequacies, according to the proposal. Funding would come from segregated fee increases, which have already been phased in. In 2015, the UWM Student Association put in place a fee that specified the funds be used as either seed funding for a new or renovated union project or maintenance work on the building.

Last year, UWM students voted against a proposal for a $129 million renovation of the student union, which would have ultimately increased student fees by $124 per semester to fund the project. Plans at that time called for renovations to roughly 64 percent of the building and the demolition and new construction on the remaining portion.

The UW Regents will consider the biennial budget proposal when they meet on Thursday. The UW System’s 2019-21 budget request will be submitted to the state’s Department of Administration in September for consideration as part of the governor’s executive budget, which is typically released in February.