Report: $836M needed to catch up on state college renovations

The four Connecticut State Universities and the state's 12 community colleges need an infusion of $836 million to complete necessary renovations and eliminate a growing backlog of construction projects.

“There is a significant backlog,” said Jim Kadamus, a consultant with Guilford-based Sightlines, told members of the Board of Regents for Higher Education last week. The board hired the company to assess the system’s construction needs.

The state has spent about $123 million a year to finance construction projects at the 16-campus public college system over the last several years. But only one-third of that funding has gone to keep up existing buildings and roads; the priority has been on new construction to handle overcrowding.

“You are adding to the backlog,” Kadamus said during a 45-minute presentation to the Regents’ Finance Committee. “There is a relatively low investment [for construction] on an annual basis.”

According to the Sightlines report, college systems across the country are deferring needed construction projects. Gary Holloway, a member of the finance panel, said he's trying to determine how the board can take action.

But with the regents system already struggling fiscally and students recently protesting tuition increases, officials from Sightlines suggest teaming up with the state to fund these projects, an idea the Malloy administration was noncommittal about Monday.

“The state university and community college systems have a balanced mix of newer and older buildings. Still, it is critical that both systems consider ways to best serve students -- that means keeping up with infrastructure and technology investments,” Malloy spokeswoman Samaia Hernandez said in a statement.

“This study was conducted for planning purposes and will be considered as part of the systems' master plans. If there's a case for capital funding, it would have to be considered as part of the budget process.”

Malloy was the driving force last year behind the state legislature's passing a law for the state to borrow $1.6 billion to overhaul the University of Connecticut, which is separate from the community college and CSU system.

ConnSCU's four bachelor's degree-granting universities -- which collectively enroll the same number of full-time students as UConn -- are set to receive $380 million over the next four fiscal years for new construction and for renovations. The nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis reported earlier this year that the four universities have received $1.2 billion in funding for construction projects from the state over the past 30 years. The community colleges received $743.4 million during that time.

UConn has received $3.1 billion since 1996, which includes the money approved this year.

Gregory Gray, the new president of the 90,000-student Board of Regents system, said he plans to use the findings in the report to develop a systemwide plan to give to the governor and legislature by February, when the 2014 session of the General Assembly opens.

Sen. Beth Bye, co-chairwoman of the legislature's Higher Education Committee, said a strategic approach to determining how to proceed is exactly what's needed.

"We have to take care of our existing buildings before we build new ones, frankly," she said of the millions of dollars slated for new construction at the Connecticut State Universities.

Bye said that with construction costs often falling on students through increased tuition, the history of universities' competing to provide the best facilities should be reconsidered in order to keep down costs.

"I think that era is coming to an end," she said. "We need a strategic focus."

 

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