East Tennessee State University officials could soon be drafting construction plans, if the state approves a new funding scheme for capital outlay projects.
The normal process to get a new academic building for any state school would be to submit a proposal to the state and it would eventually be placed on the capital outlay projects list to be built. ETSU’s proposed fine and performing arts center is on that list but the state has not funded capital projects since the economic downturn began in 2008.
The Associated Press reported the Tennessee Higher Education Commission agreed Tuesday to support a plan that would have colleges and universities pay part of the cost for campus construction projects and also requested approval of a five-year capital program that totals $1.8 billion. The state operates two higher education systems — The University of Tennessee system and the Tennessee Board of Regents. The TBR governs ETSU.
Gov. Bill Haslam and the General Assembly must approve the plan, said ETSU President Paul Stanton Jr.
“The state’s been pretty good with maintenance efforts,” Stanton said. “Pretty much everything we need and other universities need maintained, they’ve done it. The lag has been in capital outlay. We haven’t had anything in four, going on five, years in our system or the UT system.”
Stanton said Haslam had been thinking of a bond issue to get some capital projects rolling for most of this year. Haslam also suggested that schools pay a percentage of the cost of construction.
Stanton was asked to represent TBR universities in discussions on how the capital outlay proposal would work. In those discussions figures were put forward that would require universities to pay 25 percent of the cost of a construction project. Community colleges would pay 10 percent and technology centers would pay five percent of the cost of building a building.
For ETSU, this money would come from donors or reserve money from each year’s budget.
ETSU has two capital outlay projects currently on the list. One is a fine arts center and the other is a major renovation of Lamb Hall, where the College of Public Health is housed.
The fine arts center has been on the list for years and is currently at number 10, Stanton said. The cost for this project is around $40 million now, which would mean ETSU would need to come up with around $10 million under the proposed funding scheme.
Lamb Hall is an $11 million project that is 13th on the list. ETSU would need to raise about $2.7 million for that project.
“Some projects are going to be easier to raise money for than others,” Stanton said. “You can imagine Lamb Hall is not going to be that easy to raise money to renovate. The fine arts center, I think, is fairly doable for the quarter of money needed, because people want it and we could share it with the community and the city and the region.”
He hopes the governor and the legislature approve the bond issue, because older buildings deteriorate and also are not always able to accommodate new technology used for instruction. Besides that, continued delays in construction projects will only add to the number of buildings in the que.
Stanton said there are about 25 or so projects from schools across the state that are needed but are not even on the capital outlay project list.
“For instance, we have been looking at a new science facility to replace Brown Hall,” Stanton said. “It hasn’t even gotten on the list, because no new projects, for the most part, are being added to the list. So it’s gotten very stagnant and very much behind and every year there are dozens of projects that don’t get on the list now.”
Stanton said the $1.8 billion bond issue is probably the best way to get needed higher education projects moving forward. He said the state must be responsible, though.
“You can overdo, because the money has to be there to get it done,” he said.