State university leaders say critical needs require bonds

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – University of Mississippi Chancellor Dan Jones said part of the work to convert Lamar Hall, the former law school, to much-needed classrooms is being paid for with tuition funds.
“Just a few years ago it would have been unimaginable that tuition dollars would be used to renovate a building at a public university in Mississippi,” Jones said Thursday after a meeting of the Board of Trustees of the state Institutions of Higher Learning.
With state support diminishing, Jones said higher education officials are having to turn to the only other source of revenue available to make needed repairs. The result, Jones said, is a greater burden on parents and students.
But higher education officials are hoping to get additional state support from the 2013 Legislature. On Thursday, the College Board approved a list of construction and repair and renovation projects at the eight public universities to submit to the 2013 Legislature for funding. The list totals $683.9 million.
Hank Bounds, commissioner of higher education, said no one believes all of the projects will be approved by the 2013 Legislature. But he said the College Board hopes to receive a multi-year commitment so university officials can seek private funds “to complement state money.”
Normally, the state funds repair and renovation and long-term construction projects by issuing bonds that are generally paid off over a period of time – often 20 years – with state tax revenue.
The 2012 Legislature did not approve any bonds for university projects after House and Senate leaders could not agree on the amount.
Higher education officials say they have critical needs.
“We are in trouble if we don’t get a sizable bond issue this year,” Bounds said, referring to the 2013 legislative session.
He added that in some neighboring states, single institutions got larger bond issues than was requested this year for the entire Mississippi system.
For the 2012 session, Mississippi’s eight public universities requested $110 million. The bond issue for the University of Tennessee was larger than that, Bounds said.
At Mississippi State University, President Mark Keenum said additional classrooms are needed to keep pace with the growth and funds are needed to pay for repair and renovation. Keenum said the university is responsible for the maintenance of more than 40 percent of the buildings in the IHL system.
“We are approaching our capacity for classroom space due to continued enrollment growth,” he said.
Mississippi State’s priorities total $58.2 million, including $9.7 million for renovation of the historic YMCA building, $6.8 million for what Keenum said was a desperately needed addition to the Mitchell Memorial Library and $14 million for a civil and environmental engineering complex.
Those funds also would be used for such maintenance items as water infiltration repairs and roof repairs.
The university also is requesting an additional $57.3 million for its agriculture, forestry and veterinary medicine schools.
Keenum said the needs at Mississippi State exceed $600 million, though he is not asking for all of those needs be met in 2013.
At Ole Miss, $95.5 million is being requested, including funds for various renovation projects, such as Anderson Hall and Peabody Hall, funds for a new science building and $20 million for a south campus recreation facility and transportation hub.
The school also is requesting $131.3 million for the Medical Center, including $62.5 million for a planned new building to meet growth needs, which include graduating more doctors.
Bounds said in the legislative process the universities probably will be asked to prioritize the projects.
The College Board did not address prioritization Thursday.
bobby.harrison@journalinc.com