THEC discusses speed-up in construction planning

THEC discusses speed-up in construction planning

Posted: Wednesday, December 21, 2011 12:06 pm
By: By The Associated Press

The Messenger 12.21.11

NASHVILLE (AP) — The Tennessee Higher Education Commission has recommended that colleges and universities pay part of the cost for campus construction projects and speed up the planning process for new projects.
The commission had planned to discuss its proposal at its meeting Tuesday afternoon.
The Knoxville News Sentinel reported that THEC included the recommendation in a five-year plan that leaders at both the both the University of Tennessee and Board of Regent systems hope will be financed with a bond issue that could total $1.5 billion (http://bit.ly/uiTBiF ).
The recommendation asks universities to match 25 percent of the cost of the projects; community colleges and nonformula units, such as the Institute of Agriculture, to pay 10 percent; and technology centers to pay 5 percent.
The commission is requesting $245 million in new projects, $40 million of which would come from the institutions’ match, and $84 million in maintenance projects across both systems for the next fiscal year.
UT Chancellor Jimmy Cheek said the match could come from private donations and grants and a pool of $4.8 million from increased fees that students agreed to pay last year for facility upgrades.
Putting all that money toward annual debt from the bonds would be enough to cover UT’s portion of several projects on the list, Cheek said.
“I don’t think (higher education) has ever said we will contribute ‘X’ percent for a project through a match for all capital outlay requests. There have been targeted programs with match components here and there, but nothing this pervasive,” said Russ Deaton, associate executive director of fiscal policy and administration at the commission. “I don’t know if this is a permanent policy change or not, but from our perspective, we think it is appropriate over the next five years or so.”
The proposal includes a $126 million science building at Middle Tennessee State University and a $94 million science laboratory building at UT Knoxville.
If the state approves the bond issue, schools could move ahead with plans to build.
For UT, planning would start for six buildings this year, including two academic buildings at the Knoxville campus.
“Right now what we do is we wait until we get the thing fully funded and we take 10 months to a year to do the full plan, and the architecture renditions and the engineering stuff. This will make it faster to build a building,” UT System President Joe DiPietro said.
Over five years, UT has requested $819 million for 19 projects across all its campuses, including six in Knoxville.
DiPietro has said he hopes state lawmakers will approve a measure so bonds can be issued by next summer to take advantage of low interest rates.
Officials with both systems hope to convince Gov. Bill Haslam to include the bond measure in his recommended budget.
Haslam spokesman David Smith previously said the governor favors refining a strategic master plan process for higher education building projects.
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Information from: The Knoxville News Sentinel, http://www.knoxnews.com

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