By BOBBY HARRISON / Daily Journal
JACKSON – Higher education officials are hoping that during the 2018 session, legislators resume the practice of awarding them bonds to finance long-term construction projects.
On Thursday, the 12-member Board of Trustees of the state Institutions of Higher Learning (commonly referred to as the College Board) voted to make a request for the upcoming 2018 legislative session of building projects totaling $506 million. Those projects will be pared down during the legislative session.
IHL officials say they have an urgent need because during the 2017 session, no bond projects were awarded as negotiations broke down between the House and Senate leadership. The dispute centered around how large the bond bill should be and how much additional money there would be for transportation needs. The House leadership had proposed a package totaling about $190 million – about $40 million more than the Senate wanted – according to various sources.
“The facilities needs request approved by the Board of Trustees today includes projects that are crucial for our universities and their students.” said Glenn Boyce, higher education commissioner. “Not having a bond bill last year makes it very difficult to provide the living and learning facilities that our students need, expect and deserve.”
In recent years, the bond package approved by the Legislature has been around $200 million, but that amount covered projects not only on university campuses, but also for community colleges, for local economic development and tourism efforts, for transportation and for state agency building needs.
Officials had said in recent years that by issuing no more than $200 million per year, more bond debt was being retired annually than was being added.
The package that was considered during the 2017 session before negotiations broke down included $47 million for university projects and $25 million to be divided among the 15 community colleges.
While no bond projects were approved during the 2017 session, in 2016 the Legislature did authorize $33 million in bonds for the universities during the current fiscal year.
It is a certainty the requests made Thursday by the College Board will be approved over multiple years by the Legislature.
Those new requests include $51.5 million on the main campus in Oxford of the University of Mississippi for:
- A new science building, $15 million.
- Data center renovation, $18 million.
- Conner and Holman halls additions – $16 million.
- Peabody Hall work – $8.5 million.
Additional requests of $64.4 million are being made for Ole Miss, including $40.9 million for the University Medical Center in Jackson.
At Mississippi State in Starkville, projects totaling $99.6 million for the main campus and $46.7 million for the Division of Agriculture, Forestry and Veterinary Medicine are being requested.
Those projects include:
- Kinesiology building, $30 million.
- New facility for College of Architecture, Arts and Design, $30 million.
- Etheredge Hall renovations, $19.6 million.
- Magruder Hall renovations, $12 million.
- George Hall renovations, $7 million.
- Bost Extension Center technology addition, $11.4 million.
- Food Science, Nutrition and Health Promotions Complex renovation, $12.7 million.
At the Mississippi University for Women in Columbus, $19 million is being requested, including $10.2 million for a new culinary arts building.
Boyce said, “Our universities maintain over 36 million square feet of space, which is almost half of the state’s total gross square footage. Of this square footage, 56 percent is 25 years or older. Maintaining these facilities is a challenging task in the best of times; however, when resources are not made available, it compounds the problem greatly.
“We are working tirelessly to keep our older buildings useful as well as finding creative ways to transform their functionality rather than attempting to build new. We consider ourselves good stewards of these resources and recognize the importance quality facilities play in the success of our students.”
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