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Wednesday, April 4,2012

OU pleased with its share of state’s capital improvements bill

By David DeWitt
Photo Credits: Photo by Dustin Franz.
Photo Caption: File Photo.

Ohio's General Assembly has passed through a capital budget that will bring $400 million worth of infrastructure improvements to higher education in Ohio, including $18.6 million to Ohio University.

"We are very pleased that the Governor (John) Kasich and the Ohio Legislature have demonstrated their support of the physical environment that surrounds our students, faculty, and staff," OU President Roderick McDavis said in a statement Tuesday. "The process that led to the development of the funding plan was inclusive and reflective of the distinct differences among colleges and universities in our state.  We are pleased that our state leaders share in the commitment to this important responsibility to our university community."

Gov. Kasich signed onto the legislation Monday afternoon, with Ohio State University president Gordon Gee "dotting the i," after leading a collaborative effort to coordinate the capital requests of the 37 Ohio higher-education institutions.

The overall $1.74 billion state construction budget has been reported to be the smallest capital budget in Ohio in at least a decade, according to a spokesperson for the Office of Budget and Management.

In addition to the higher-education monies, it includes $675 million for primary and secondary school construction and $365 million for local infrastructure projects such as repairs to roads, bridges and water and sewer systems.

In February, after the governor's State of the State Address, OU President Roderick McDavis applauded the governor's proposal to bring back the capital bill.

This sentiment was echoed by Vice President for Finance and Administration Steve Golding.

"Ohio University is in its third century of operations," he said. "We have some of the oldest buildings in Ohio."

He said that many buildings are in need of significant renovation, and the university recently has struggled to deal with this situation because it has been 18 months since money in the last capital bill was appropriated.

McDavis said that one main priority for the Athens campus in its capital improvements plan will be the E.W. Scripps School of Communication complex planned for the old Baker Center building and RTV building at the intersection of College and East Union streets. This project has been on hold for several years now.

Some other areas where the money will be directed include roof and ramp repair at the Convocation Center; repairs to Pruitt Field; steam pipe replacement at Lindley Hall; roof repairs on West Green, and air handler replacement at Alden Library.

In January, McDavis discussed a $2.57 billion capital investment plan being put forth by the university. This plan was approved by the OU Board of Trustees in November.

The six-year plan calls for spending $977.5 million in this area over that period; a proposed 20-year plan calls for spending more than $2.5 billion to fix up and rehab dorms, classroom buildings, utilities and other campus fixtures. Much of the money will be borrowed, though OU officials acknowledged that some may have to come from increased tuition and fees. That plan included $146.4 million in deferred maintenance projects.

In presentations during the trustees meeting, the board was told that if OU doesn't ramp up its spending on long-standing deferred maintenance issues, at some point maintenance costs could shoot up to 10 times their current amount, the campus will begin to suffer two to four equipment outages every month, and classes will be increasingly disrupted.

At the top of priorities for the plan is the long-awaited transformation of the old Baker Center and current RTV building into the new home of the Scripps College of Communication (with the tentative name Schoonover Center for Communication).

Golding said at the time that the two-phase project is expected to take about 18 months to complete. If all goes well, he said, it could be done sometime in early 2014.

Another major rehab project that OU is looking at is the replacement of all 15 of its New South Green dormitories.

"When we started this process, we knew resources were extremely limited, and the system in place to allocate funds was based primarily on power, not necessarily on prudence," Kasich said in a news release after signing the plan. "I believed Ohio needed to change course to ensure we utilize these limited resources in a way that produces the greatest return on our investment, and I'm very pleased that my partners in the Legislature embraced this new approach."


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