Lower state revenues hit ETSU fine arts, stadium funding this year

Nathan Baker • Feb 5, 2014 at 12:09 PM

Gov. Bill Haslam said Tuesday that an expected decline in state revenues will mean East Tennessee State University’s fine and performing arts center and football stadium projects will not be funded this year.

The governor unveiled his fiscal year 2014-15 budget proposal Monday during his State of the State Address, which notably left out the $38 million arts center and the $18 million stadium identified as major goals by university President Brian Noland more than two years ago.

Haslam said new revenues for next year are projected at $260 million, all of which will be spent on cost increases to big-ticket programs, like TennCare and education.

“The way I approach a budget is there are certain things that you have to do, there are certain things that you need to do to be responsible that might not be a lot of fun — like fixing the roof — and there are other things that you’d like to do when the opportunity presents itself,” he said.

The opportunities did not present themselves for ETSU’s capital building projects and others at universities across the state.

Capital maintenance projects at the state’s higher-education institutions, in Haslam’s responsible needs category, will get $63 million this year, but only two buildings at community colleges will receive new construction funding.

A statement issued Tuesday by Noland underscored the university’s resolve to complete the projects, and said hope remains that the state will include them in future budget cycles.

“Staff members at ETSU are in the process of reviewing the proposed 2014-15 budget,” the statement reads. “The governor’s budget recognizes the financial challenges facing the state and accents the community colleges. ETSU remains committed to moving the fine arts facility forward and to date we have raised over $5.8 million in matching funds.”

This year, the state approved $1.5 million to pay for design and planning work for the arts center, which could include a 1,400-seat performance hall, a smaller recital venue and instruction space, depending on where it will be built.

The college’s first choice for the location is across West State of Franklin Road from the Mountain States Health Alliance Athletic Center, in an undeveloped lot near the Millennium Centre, but school and Johnson City representatives are still trying to come to an agreement on the land, centered mainly on floodwater management and pedestrian access.

If the talks with the city fail, Noland has said a smaller arts center could still be built at a backup location on campus, in what is now a parking lot opposite Burgin Dossett Hall.

Expecting a $28.5 million allocation from the state, the ETSU Arts Initiative began fundraising efforts in earnest last year, reaching more than $5.8 million of its $9.5 million goal at present.

The stadium, the intended home of ETSU’s rebooted football team, was approved in concept in July by the Tennessee State Building Commission, but no public funding has yet been allocated to the project.

It, too, is awaiting a final location, but Noland has said it will likely be built in one of two spots on the west side of campus.

A fee increase for the college’s 15,000 students is expected to provide $7.5 million for the stadium, with the remaining $10.5 million to be a mix of state funds and private donors.

In October, Director of Intercollegiate Athletics Richard Sander said fundraising for the stadium was on hold until lawmakers determined the portion of funding expected from contributions.

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