Editor's note: This story originally incorrectly reported some of the amounts budgeted for ETSU projects or maintenance. Those have since been corrected.
Planning for a new East Tennessee State University fine and performing arts center will begin this year, if Gov. Bill Haslam’s budget is approved by legislators.
Haslam delivered his third State of the State address to lawmakers Monday night. A whole list of priorities for Tennessee was outlined in the budget he presented during this speech, but higher education in the state was allocated a little more than $307 million from Haslam’s budget.
ETSU was approved to spend $1.5 million in planning funds for a new fine and performing arts center.
The way capital projects, like the performing arts center, are funded now requires four-year universities to come up with 25 percent of the total project cost, largely through fundraising. This $1.5 million planning money will be included in the total cost and come out of ETSU’s 25 percent match.
A new fine and performing arts center has been estimated to cost around $38 million, said ETSU Vice President of Finance and Administration David Collins.
“So the idea is to get the planning done now so that when ... next July comes ... we’ll be shovel-ready,” Collins said.
Funding for construction usually follows approval for planning funds, so it is possible a performing arts center could be built in a few years.
Where to place this center is now the question.
Lot 1 is a possibility for the fine arts center, although negotiations are ongoing with the city of Johnson City for that property. Lot 1 is a piece of land across West State of Franklin Road from the university and adjacent to Millennium Centre. ETSU had been interested in buying this property for years and was even approved for a purchase price of $1.1 million by the State Building Commission. But that price is old now and likely not valid.
Any movement on that purchase would require input from the Johnson City Public Building Authority and others.
Other considerations in Haslam’s budget for ETSU included many capital maintenance projects and raises for employees.
Haslam’s budget allocates $1.35 million to bring elevators up to date with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Another $1.5 million for lighting upgrades to meet energy requirements as well as $500,000 to replace the College of Medicine’s chilled water system were recommended for ETSU.
The total money allocated for capital improvements was $3.35 million, which represents about 10 percent of this budget category for all Tennessee Board of Regents schools.
Also included in the governor’s budget was a 1.5 percent salary increase for employees. ETSU will have 55 percent of this funded by the state, with the remaining 45 percent coming from tuition.
To help meet the Complete College Act goal of increasing the number of Tennesseans with bachelor’s degrees, operating expenses were increased for ETSU to the tune of $2,078,600. Including salary increases, the total increase for operating expenses come to $3,491,900 for the main campus.
The College of Medicine and ETSU Family Medicine got operating increases of $947,900 and $198,900, respectively. Factoring in salary costs, the operating increase for the medical school was proposed at $1,643,800. Factor in everything for Family Medicine and the total operating increase is $387,300.
Salary increases for the medical school and Family Medicine are all funded at 100 percent, so no tuition hikes will be required to fund those salaries.
“Overall, I think it’s been a very good year,” Collins said of the budget. “We are truly pleased to see the governor’s recommendations and certainly hopeful that the state legislature will pass the budget as received.”