August 20, 2013 10:54:56 AM
JACKSON -- As they present their annual request for capital spending, leaders of Mississippi's eight public universities say they're pleased with the Legislature's pledge to borrow $100 million a year to cover the schools' needs.
The College Board adopted the plan at its meeting Thursday. Each institution adopted 10 top priorities, an amount totaling $634.4 million across the system. Top priorities range from another $30.5 million to pay for the new medical school building at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson to $300,000 to upgrade sprinklers at the Cedar Brook Apartments at the University of Southern Mississippi.
Higher Education Commissioner Hank Bounds said the board knows lawmakers won't contribute the amount needed to cover the total request. However, he said the future map for capital spending laid out in the 2013 bond bill is enough to sustain the universities.
"We are happy with $100 million," Bounds said in an interview last week. "We probably need it to be $130 million or so per year, but we recognize the state has other needs."
The College Board has been pushing for a multi-year capital spending plan. Although the Legislature could change what it adopted this spring, the move appears to have helped schools feel confident enough to start big projects with the belief that more money will arrive by the time it's needed. For example, UMMC plans to start construction on the medical school building this fall. In the past, smaller universities especially would tend to wait until enough money had been allocated to pay for a whole project, which could delay the start of construction for years.
"At least now we have a road map," Harry Sims, the College Board's assistant commissioner of real estate and facilities, told members of the board's Finance Committee.
Bounds said he's encouraged by the 2013 Legislature's decision to pay for some maintenance using cash, instead of borrowing.
The amount set aside for rehabilitation and renovation, called "R and R" in budget-writing jargon, could increase next year. Officials said such maintenance dollars could double next year, based on talks with lawmakers. That could boost capital spending at universities even if bonding doesn't increase.
"We feel really good about the three-year bond bills and particularly if we can continue to receive appropriated R and R dollars," Bounds said. "I know the leadership in the Legislature would prefer to continue appropriating R and R dollars rather than bond it. That's the right way to pay for things like roofs and air conditioners."
One priority of the board has been to add fire sprinklers to older university buildings that lack them. Only four universities still have such projects on their capital plans, a sign that the effort is nearing completion, Sims said.
"They've made a concerted effort to get it done, and we can see the light at the end of the tunnel," he said.
Bond amounts requested
■ Mississippi State University
Total for top 10 projects: $51 million.
Top projects: 1. Addition to Mitchell Memorial Library, $6.8 million; 2. Civil and environmental engineering complex, $14 million.
■ Mississippi University for Women
Total for top 10 projects: $23.8 million.
Top projects: 1. Disability code compliance and campus safety, $3 million; 2. Fant Memorial Library addition and renovation, $8.9 million.
■ University of Mississippi
Total for top 10 projects: $132 million.
Top projects: 1. Garland Hedleston Mayes dormitory renovation, $16 million; South campus recreation facility and transportation hub, $20 million.
Source: College Board