University System Eyes Building Projects

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TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) – The state university system is advancing $125 million in proposed construction and maintenance work that could be bolstered by a $283.5 million list of supplemental projects.

The system’s Board of Governors, meeting at Florida Polytechnic University in Lakeland, is scheduled Thursday to review the proposal for next academic year.

University leaders are fashioning the 2017-18 Public Education Capital Outlay, or PECO, proposal against the backdrop of a state budget with limited resources.

The primary list includes $65 million for eight construction projects at seven of the state universities and $60 million in maintenance funding shared by all 12 state universities.

The proposal is modest compared to the $142 million in university projects, and $62 million in maintenance funding, that the Legislature approved last year, although that list was pared when Gov. Rick Scott vetoed over $53 million in university and state college projects from the 2016-17 state budget.

The new proposal, though, would allow the Legislature to add more university projects from a supplemental list that includes 16 projects with an annual $283.5 million cost.

But the supplemental list drew debate Wednesday from the board’s Facilities Committee, with member Wendy Link questioning why the supplemental list did not include all the projects that had been reviewed by the board. She said the $285.3 million total was arbitrary, after being told some projects had been dropped from the list.

“It reeks of something that does not smell very good,” said Link, who voted against the supplemental list.

Tom Kuntz, chairman of the Board of Governors, said the primary PECO list was the “real request,” with the supplemental projects providing the Legislature, which has the ultimate authority to decide what will be funded, more options. Lawmakers will consider projects during the legislative session that starts March 7.

One purpose of the supplemental list is to give university advocates a way to keep additional projects up for consideration under a new House budget procedure. By being on the list, the projects may not need to be filed as separate bills, which would allow the projects to remain under consideration during final budget negotiations.

“We have given the Legislature some flexibility and choices, which I think is something that they want,” said Alan Levine, a board member.

The major projects on the “primary” PECO list include $16.6 million for the University of South Florida’s Morsani medical facility in Tampa; $14.5 million for Florida State University’s earth ocean atmospheric sciences building; $11.85 million for a STEM-life sciences building for Florida Atlantic University in Jupiter; and $8.6 million for a nuclear sciences building at the University of Florida.

All the projects have required multi-year funding. For instance, the $8.6 million for the University of Florida building would represent the final year funding for a $55.4 million project.

New College of Florida, the state’s smallest institution, has two projects on the primary list, including $1.85 million to complete a $9.7 million addition to a natural-sciences building and $4 million to begin planning a “multi-purpose” building on the Sarasota campus.

The multi-purpose building represents the start of a plan to boost the school’s enrollment to about 1,200 students, which will help increase the school’s diversity and is part of an effort to move New College to the upper tier of liberal arts colleges in the nation.

The top project on the “supplemental” PECO list is actually $10 million in additional maintenance funding for the universities. The top-ranked construction project is $25 million for an applied research center for Florida Polytechnic.

Last year, the Legislature approved a $625 million PECO program, which also included construction and maintenance funding for the 28 state colleges and the public-school system. The funding included $350 million in cash and $275 million in bonds.

The size of this year’s PECO program will be impacted by a decision about whether to use bonds again.

The News Service of Florida’s Lloyd Dunkelberger contributed to this report.

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