Apr 032005
Authors: Kyle Endres, Erin Skarda

For the first time in three years, the Capitol will be helping CSU with its construction capital.

The CSU System recently found out that it will receive the most capital construction funding of any state university system, allowing it to begin five projects that have been unfunded the past few years.

The system, which consists of the Fort Collins and Pueblo campuses, has been told it will receive roughly $7.7 million in capital funding for the 2005-2006 school year.

The funding this year comes as a result of lawmakers believing they will be able to balance the state's budget without touching capital construction money.

"And since they haven't given any out for many years, they recognize they have a lot of backlogged issues that they have to deal with," said Keith Ickes, vice president for administrative services.

Two of the projects taking place at CSU in Fort Collins: Roughly $1.5 million will go toward the construction of a new hazardous-waste facility and about $481,000 will replace plumbing in many university buildings.

The other three projects will go toward renovating several aspects of the CSU Pueblo campus's gymnasium and replacing roofing at several academic buildings.

A recent e-mail from CSU President Larry Penley to the university community expressed surprise at the system receiving more than a quarter of the total higher education capital funding allocation.

What is capital funding?

Capital funding is separate from the state's higher education budget and exists exclusively for construction projects and building maintenance, said Rich Schweigert, chief financial officer for the Department of Higher Education.

Schweigert said the total amount of capital funding for all state agencies is approximately $44 million, with higher education allotted roughly $30 million.

However, Schweigert said this funding is not a done deal yet.

"It is just going to be put into the budget for the long bill," Schweigert said, referring to the state's budget bill. "It will have to run through the Senate and House (of Representatives). If it receives the majority of votes it goes to the governor to sign into law."

The bill will likely be introduced today, said Todd Jorgensen, a Colorado Legislative Council staff member.

"It's a 95 percent done deal," Schweigert said. "Usually those figures don't change much."

The amount of money, which comes from tax dollars, varies from year-to-year.

"(Higher education) had a high need this year. Last year there was almost no capital construction money… just because of budget shortfalls, there was not enough money to fund it," Schweigert said.

The Prioritization Process

With the current state of higher education in Colorado, some people might wonder why CSU was awarded the most money for capital funding projects.

"It's a prioritization process," Schweigert said.

First, the university or university system submits a five-year plan to the Colorado Commission on Higher Education that includes the capital-development projects it is planning for the next five years. The CCHE selects the projects that are the institutions' priorities and that they want funded for the 2005-2006 school year.

The CCHE makes sure the requested projects are consistent with the university's master plan, Jorgensen said.

The CCHE then sends the list of each university's priorities to the Capital Development Committee, which is in charge of reviewing the capital construction requests. The development committee considers these priorities and comes up with its own list of priorities.

"For the most part the CDC respects the CCHE priorities and mostly keeps them in place," Jorgensen said. "(CDC) usually hold true to what the CCHE prioritized."

Then, the development committee makes its recommendations to the Joint Budget Committee, which has the final say of what gets into the long bill.

After the budget committee drafts the long bill, the legislature debates it, Jorgensen said. The long bill is drafted once a year as part of the budget process, usually in the fall.


Pueblo's capital projects

Ickes, vice president for administrative services at the Fort Collins campus, said a big reason the CSU System is slated to receive the most construction money is the extreme disrepair of the Pueblo campus's gymnasium, the Health, Physical Education and Recreation (HPER) Building.

"I think there was a lot of support for the HPER building at Pueblo," Ickes said. "That was clearly the largest component of this. It's a major facility down there and the situation is pretty severe. They can't use it."

Two of the approved capital construction projects will benefit the HPER Building. About $2.5 million will go toward a first phase of renovation, which will include asbestos abatement, replacing the building's roof and adding new air-handling units to improve air circulation and cooling.

Another $2.8 million will replace the gymnasium's bleachers and one of its entrances. Pueblo's third project will replace the roofs on the Life Sciences and Physics Math buildings and will cost approximately $437,000.

Ickes said the Pueblo construction had large support from the Capital Development Committee, whose chair is Buffie McFayden, a representative from the Pueblo area.

"HPER is pretty severe, so in that regard, when you have one building with a severe problem and a large price tag to get it fixed, that can draw a fair amount of money for you," he said.

Capital money versus other funding

CSU's construction funding comes in different forms.

For most academic buildings and buildings required for basic university functioning – such as the hazardous-waste facility – the state chips in the primary funding.

"And what the state's looking at in part is if I build a building, I put an obligation on the state to operate it. So then they want to have an opportunity to evaluate the building financially," Ickes said.

However, state money usually cannot be used to construct or operate research buildings. Construction for these buildings usually comes through gifts or federal funding.

Some projects are also expedited without involving the state legislature. Ickes said an example would be the new residence hall, Summit Hall, which is funded by student housing fees. Since the state does not have to contribute money to the building, it does not have to approve its construction.

In the case of the University Center for the Arts, however, the state initially approved construction. But since the state has not had money for capital construction the past few years, the aspects of the center designated for state funding have been left unfinished.

"The pieces that have been done so far have been done on gifts," Ickes said. "The state portion of the project, if you will, the things we thought the state was going to pay for, they've been sitting there unfunded for now two and a half, three years."

Overall, Ickes said while the five projects the CSU System will likely receive funding for are not extremely exciting, they are essential to the operation of the campuses as a whole.

"This is not exciting and sexy stuff. This is taking care of business and that's what the state was working on," he said. "This simply keeps the campus operating better, more effectively. That's about all it is."

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