Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Building Projects Continue, with New Uncertainty, by Samantha Loomis

All University of Wisconsin system schools are experiencing the downward spiral of state-funded budget cuts; University of Wisconsin-La Crosse is not an exception. Despite these monetary setbacks most building and remodeling projects on UW-L’s campus are proceeding as scheduled. This is because the funds come from elsewhere than the “base budget,” either by state funding or student fees.  The recent complication is a possibility of the "tuition freeze" forcing re-allocation and cancellation of projects.

The state has priorities that outweigh those of secondary education. So health care, education for K-12, correctional facilities and transportation all get funding before higher education.

“You can’t charge a prisoner tuition, or a kindergartener, but you can charge a college student the cost of education,” said Bob Hetzel, chief budget officer at UW-L.

In 2013, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse had a base budget of about $218 million, with 14.28% coming from the state and 85.72% coming from charges to students. However, each year this state percentage is being reduced. In the 2011-13 biennium budget, UW-L had a total reduction of $7.91 million of state support, and in the 2013-15 biennium budget, UW-L experienced a reduction of $2.48 million.

In a Joint Planning and Budget Committee meeting in September 2013, Chancellor Joe Gow reported that the 2015-17 biennial budget will present significant challenges for UW-L and the system as a whole. These challenges refer to the biennial budget cuts UW system schools have been experiencing.  Within the last month, the chancellor has suggested that $24 million of "reserve" money for remodelling Wittich Hall may no longer be available if needed for regular operations because of the "freeze."

Despite these worries of budget cuts, in March of 2013, the State Building Commission approved five building projects totaling a cost of $155.8 million. A new science lab building replacing Cowley Hall will be $82 million funded by state tax dollars, and a second chilled water plant will be $8.4 million funded half by state tax dollars and half program revenue.

“Although the university’s operating budget has been reduced in the past several biennia, the funding for capital budget has not been reduced by the state,” said Doug Pearson , executive director of UW-L’s Facilities Planning and Management.

Tax dollars and capital budget come from the state while program revenue comes from specific fess. All of these can be included in the total reserve UW-L has. It comes from money not spent previously, including segregated fees set aside for certain projects. About 75% of the System’s current reserve money is accumulated from pro-rated projects in previous years.  Criticism of reserve funds led to the current tuition freeze and a proposal to extend it another two years, four altogether.

A second chilled water plant is to be added in order to support the air conditioning in the new student center and the new Cowley Hall. The current chilled water plant is not able to support these new buildings.
Also to support the new buildings, a 5KV Switchgear Project is scheduled to upgrade the electrical system on campus. The funding for this project will come from general purpose revenue and program revenue. The construction is scheduled to begin in the summer of 2015.

The parking ramp will add two additional levels because during the construction of Cowley Hall and the new student center two parking lots will be lost. The additional levels are making up for that loss. Parking ramp costs total $11.725 million with about half coming from program revenue supported borrowing and the rest from program revenue-cash, parking passes and fines.

The UW system tuition freeze doesn’t prevent student fee increase, especially student approved projects. In this way, many building projects receive funding from segregated fees or student fees.  However, all monies and buildings belong to the state, not the university specifically.  In 2009, the state removed about $5 million for constructing Eagle Hall and re-allocated it outside UW-L.  The governor has even suggested selling state buildings, including power plants and residence halls, and requiring universities to lease their own buildings.

Students voted to replace Cartwright Center with a new student center for $53.3 million funded completely by student and user fees. The new student center would be funded through student segregated fees. The fees would be applied gradually to tuition until 2016 when the project would be finished. Students currently pay $136.06 per semester for Cartwright Center and its basic costs to operate. A new student center is thought to cost about $55 million. Students would pay an additional $155 per semester fee per student for the next 30 years.

The fees would begin as a “step-up” fee. The fee accumulates each year as growth develops into the new overall segregated fee rate for the University Center. The fee step-up began in 2012 with $20, each year an additional $20 was added to the previous year’s balance. The final year, when the student center is finished, an additional $230 would be added, creating a total annual student fee of $310.

The Recreational Eagle Center is an additional building project. A referendum was voted on April 15, to require students to pay an additional $14 per year in segregated fees. Students are currently paying $54 per year to pay off the REC’s existing mortgage; the additional $14 would be added to make the annual student fee $68. The $14 increase will pay for about a 30,000 square foot addition. The REC remodel would be completely funded by these student fees.

The REC has a separate operating budget of $1.9 million to pay for basic necessities such as electricity and maintenance. Besides the operating budget, the REC collects $1.7 million in student fees and $190,000 in generated revenue.

In addition, Murphy Library’s Learning Center was recently remodeled. This was funded by UW-L’s Classroom Laboratory Modification budget.

“This budget is used to fund institutional priorities for academic and student support spaces,” said Pearson.
Murphy Library is in the process of getting enough funding through GPR. An architect is to be hired to appraise the construction costs for putting in a new circulation and a new reference desk as well as possibly reorganizing and relocating the library offices.

The design of the floor plan was changed to create an open environment with individual areas for departments, with computers in the middle for student use as well as SMART boards located throughout the center. Rooms for biology and microbiology tutoring, along with the Public Speaking Lab, are situated behind this main zone. The Writing Lab has an area of its own, said Danielle Cook’s article “Renovated Learning Center” in The Racquet.

There is ongoing construction in Graff auditorium. It is an All Agency Project.

Every two years, as part of the biennial budget process, the Building Commission recommends a state building program, which includes a list of projects and funding sources to meet the state’s capital improvement and maintenance needs. The All Agency program provides funding to the Building Commission to support repair and renovation projects. UW System is given a funding allocation which they may choose to give to a project that has been submitted to the Division of Facilities Development and Building Commission for approval,” said Pearson.

The remodel includes upgraded equipment, providing the most current audio/visual systems with new lighting as well. Seating will be improved to “facilitate large lecture instruction or special events.” The ceiling and walls will be patched due to crumbling and weak plaster. The cost is estimated at about $1.4 million and is scheduled for completion near June 2014.