published Friday, November 11th, 2011

UTC life sciences laboratory project now number 4 on priority list

Work continues on the new new UTC library Wednesday.
Work continues on the new new UTC library Wednesday.
Photo by Angela Lewis /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
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    Work continues on the new UTC library.
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CAPITAL OUTLAY PRIORITIES FOR UTC

Require state appropriations

Fiscal year 2012-13 Life sciences laboratory facility: $59.5 million

FY2014-15 Academic classroom building renovation (Lupton building): $31.5 million

FY2015-2016 Health sciences laboratory facility: $49.1 million


CAPITAL MAINTENANCE PRIORITIES

FY 2012-13 (Two out of 12 projects)

Campus safety and security improvements: $3.7 million

Grote Hall roof replacement: $1.2 million

FY2013-14

Central plant chiller #4 and Oak Street distribution: $4 million

Building exterior repairs, phase II: $2.5 million

Elevator upgrades: $1.2 million

Brock Hall improvements: $1.95 million


PROPOSED SELF-FUNDED PROJECTS

FY2012-13

Arena seating and curtain system improvements: $1.2 million

Housing fire alarm and sprinklers: $1.2 million

Parking lot improvements: $800,000

Total: $3.2 million

Source: UT board of trustees


WHAT'S NEXT

The university system has until Dec. 9 to give the list to the Tennessee Higher Education Commission. THEC will combine it with the Tennessee Board of Regents priority list and make recom-mendations to Gov. Bill Haslam in mid- to late December.

KNOXVILLE -- Building a life sciences laboratory facility at UTC finally has made it to the top tier of projects prioritized by the UT system for funding in the next fiscal year.

The $59.5 million project has been in the works for about six years, said University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Chancellor Roger Brown. It's now No. 4 out of 20 projects identified for the next five years.

But it remains to be seen whether money for the project will survive the state budget process. Last year, no capital building projects received funding.

"It's terribly hard to get money for capital projects right now," Brown said during the recent board of trustees meeting.

UTC received funding about three years ago for the library that's now under construction, said Brown, but it took 15 years to get the $48 million needed.

The full board approved the preliminary systemwide building list through fiscal years 2015-16 that includes more than $837 million in capital outlay priorities systemwide and almost $218 million for capital maintenance priorities.

In all, UTC is in line for more than $150 million in work that also includes renovations in the Lupton building, a health sciences laboratory facility and campus safety and security improvements.

Enrollment at UTC has increased 20 percent in the last five years. The school needs more classroom and lab space so students can graduate in a timely manner, Brown said.

Gov. Bill Haslam said higher education will have a capital program next year; the question is how much and how it will be paid for.

"Obviously the state has major financial issues, but we are well behind capital expenditure on higher education on the UT schools and the [Tennessee Board of Regents] schools," he told reporters after the UT board meeting Oct. 28.

There's a significant backlog of capital projects across the state.

The backlog is hard to quantify, according to Russ Deaton, associate executive director of fiscal policy and administration for the Tennessee Higher Education Commission. But last year the commission identified about 250 capital maintenance projects totaling about $424 million for both the UT system and the Tennessee Board of Regents.

The commission also recommended to the governor six capital outlay projects costing $342 million for 2011-2012 at a total of $342 million, but it had identified an 36 additional projects totaling $1.2 billion. None got funded, Deaton said.

In 2011-12, 38 capital maintenance projects valued at $54 million were funded for the UT and board of regents systems.

"The average annual funding for capital maintenance has been around $39 million since 2000, but that has not been enough to address the full extent of the maintenance needs across the more than 50 campuses in the public higher education system," said Deaton, and there's also significant need for new facilities.

Enrollment at UTC increased 20 percent over the last five years with a record enrollment for 2011 of 11,338 students, which means a shortage of academic space in general, said Brown.

UT President JoeDiPietro has also said the most pressing need for the system remains funding for new buildings and repairs and renovations.

Haslam agrees.

"I'm not just talking about new buildings; we have serious maintenance issues in our buildings," Haslam said.

"We are trying to graduate more students. That means we need to prepare more slots, we need to make sure students get through faster, and capital expansion is part of that," he added.

Both higher education systems -- TBR and UT -- are asking the state to consider a major bond issue up to perhaps $1.5 billion for higher education capital needs.

Schools officials argue that now is the perfect time because of lower interest rates and construction costs.

But Haslam said the amount is to be determined.

"Ultimately it will be a decision of the legislature to decide how much debt we are comfortable with and take priorities from both systems," he said, adding that he wants to make sure it doesn't affect the state's credit rating.

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about Perla Trevizo...

Perla Trevizo joined the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 2007 and covers immigration/diversity issues and higher education. She holds a master’s degree in newswire journalism from Universidad Rey Juan Carlos in Madrid, Spain, and a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Texas. In 2011 she participated in the Bringing Home the World international reporting fellowship program sponsored by the International Center for Journalists, producing a series on Guatemalan immigrants for which she ...

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cheesy_rider said...

Smells like another tuition hike (12% or more)for 2012.

November 11, 2011 at 7:47 p.m.
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