How did ETSU use stimulus money?
Jan 9, 2012 at 3:46 PM
**A previous version of this story incorrectly stated more than 30 employees took the voluntary buyout offered at ETSU in the spring of 2009.**
Of the roughly $30 million in federal stimulus money East Tennessee State University received, about half was used for facility improvements and half was used to alleviate the impact of budget reversions.
ETSU Vice President for Finance and Administration David Collins said the facility improvements made possible by stimulus dollars included the major renovation of Ross Hall, HVAC replacements in 12 buildings, vinyl window replacements in 11 buildings, chemistry lab renovations in Brown Hall and the digital upgrade for the campus radio station WETS-FM 89.5.
“The Ross Hall renovation was a dorm we were taking offline,” Collins said. “And we had been working for a year or two trying to figure out how we could accumulate the money, because we knew we wanted it for academic space. And then that (stimulus money) came along and it gave us the money that we needed, so, of course, that created academic space.”
Ross Hall is now home to the department of geosciences, the Roan Scholars Leadership Program and the office of research and sponsored programs. The $4 million renovations to the building, which included the installation of an elevator, smart labs, a digital mapmaking room and classrooms, were completed this past summer.
The HVAC improvements and window replacements had been needed for years, Collins said, but there was simply no money available to make the necessary changes.
“We had windows 40, 50 years old letting air in, and the same thing with HVAC systems,” Collins said. “You’d come through in the winter and see windows up everywhere, because you just couldn’t control it.”
Every room now has a thermostat, so everyone can have the temperature they desire. And the new windows are now vinyl, so they will no longer have to be painted. This all saves on maintenance and energy costs.
The HVAC projects cost $6 million and it took about $1.5 million for windows.
The school spent $300,000 on renovating chemistry labs and is an example of the school trying to generate revenue.
“You can only have the number of students that that lab holds and by renovating and increasing the size and we get three, four, five more students in there, that’s bringing in more money,” Collins said.
None of the projects would have been accomplished without the stimulus money, Collins said.
ETSU began receiving federal stimulus dollars in fiscal 2008-09. The money came each year through fiscal 2010-11. The state of Tennessee funneled the federal money to lessen the impact of budget reversions.
In fall 2008, Nashville reversed its approved budget for all its colleges and universities due to poor sales tax collections. The stimulus funds allowed annual reversions to be around 7 or 8 percent, rather than a massive reduction at the beginning of the Great Recession.
This put the financial burden of running a university more on students, but it prevented layoffs.
“So instead of a 20 or 25 percent fee increase the first year or lay off a ton of people, it let us bring that in and let everybody get used to it and let us work on adjusting our budget,” Collins said.
Some of the stimulus money went toward the voluntary buyout program from spring 2009. In this program, ETSU offered qualifying employees incentives to retire early. Ultimately, more than 130 employees took the deal, which was estimated to save the school more than $3 million in salary costs each year.
ETSU also bought about $2.5 million in specialized equipment for academic purposes. Things like a motion analysis system for the College of Education, a robotic surveying system for surveying students, a protein purification system for biology students and electronic news gathering packages for mass communications students.
All these pieces of equipment and much more were extremely welcome and in some cases resolved accreditation issues, Collins said.
“It’s been years, so many years, since we’ve ever got equipment money from the state,” Collins said. “You just had to make it work within your budget.”
In addition to direct stimulus money, ETSU also received around $18 million in stimulus money in the form of grants through various government agencies.
The Johnson City Downtown Clinic got a $6.9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Health Resources and Services Administration to build a new clinic. That clinic is being built across from Johnson City Medical Center.
Two other projects that have yet to begin but were funded through grants include $2 million in renovations to labs in Brown Hall and a $9.1 million grant to renovate labs in the College of Medicine’s Building 119.
Collins said ETSU’s Strategic Budget Management Committee established to better handle state reductions in funding is now a standing committee, and ETSU had adopted a “culture of stewardship” in regard to spending taxpayers’ money.