Aug. 30-Sept. 12, 2002
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Bond referendum
a critical issue for higher education

This is the first in a series.

By Anne Bromley

Sue Kiely, a U.Va. graduate, just returned to Charlottesville last weekend to help her oldest son move into his first-year dorm as he entered the School of Engineering. She would like her other two children, who are 15 and 12, to have the same opportunity to attend an in-state school.

New Cabell Hall
Photos by Andrew Shurtleff

Drafty windows, cramped classrooms and outdated facilities …

have been targeted for repairs and renovations with funds in the Nov. 5 bond issue.

The College of Arts & Sciences in particular suffers from aging facilities and maintenance needs. The average age of buildings is 62, and in a recent Facilities Management report only five of the College’s 22 buildings were rated in “good” condition, according to guidelines from the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia.

In a separate assessment of space needs for the College, consultants concluded, “Antiquated building infrastructure, poor ventilation, limited electrical capacity and overcrowding interfere with instruction and create uncomfortable work environments for faculty and staff throughout the College.

“In the sciences and the fine and performing arts, many facilities are inadequate to support state-of-the-art technology and experimentation,” the assessment says.

They will be among a flood of new faces. In the next decade, 32,000 more high school graduates are expected to go to colleges and universities in Virginia – on top of the 325,000 that attend now.

Kiely, a Fairfax County resident, said state schools are the top choices for all the parents she knows.

“It’s amazing how many people say, ‘Why would we go out of state?’” What they value, said Kiely, is the affordability, national reputation and range of size options among the schools in Virginia.

Maintaining high standards while accommodating growing enrollment will challenge the schools’ facilities. That’s why many officials are pointing to Nov. 5 as a critical point in higher education in Virginia. On that day, citizens will vote whether $846 million in bonds will be issued to help finance renovations and new buildings on campuses statewide.

“I cannot emphasize enough how important passage of this referendum is to Virginia’s future,” said Gov. Mark R. Warner at U.Va. during Finals in May, one of six graduation ceremonies where he made the case for the higher education bond package. “We won’t have the laboratories, the classrooms and the dormitories unless we pass this referendum.”

crack in wallMore than $68 million is earmarked for capital projects at U.Va., ranging from $24 million toward a new medical research facility to $12.5 million to upgrade storm water systems, “chillers” and other basic infrastructure needs.

The state’s financial crisis and substantial budget cutting spurred the General Assembly and the governor to target $846 million of the $900 million referendum to higher education, seeing this as one way to build for the future, even in tough times.

old desks“One of the state’s many problems is that (with the exception of projects financed by the last GOB in 1992) it has failed to invest in buildings and major upgrades for over 10 years,” said U.Va. President John T. Casteen III. “This referendum is a chance for voters to repair some of this damage, make clear that adequate facilities are a priority for them, and also send the message that Virginians care about the things that belong to all of us, and perhaps especially for the colleges that they have supported over the years.”

Over the past 15 years, U.Va. has received $108 million in state capital funding. The last referendum for higher education was a decade ago, when voters overwhelmingly approved borrowing $613 million.

North Carolina, in comparison, passed a $3.1 billion bond act for higher education in 2000, with $900 million directed to UNC-Chapel Hill alone.

Del. Jeanne Marie Devolites, a Northern Virginia Republican who represents part of Fairfax County, said she and her colleagues hear concerns from their constituents about the limited space available in Virginia’s public colleges and universities.
“If we don’t increase the capacity in classrooms and labs, Virginia residents may not be able to go to in-state schools and will be forced to go to more expensive schools,” said Devolites, a U.Va. alumna. “I believe every child should have the opportunity to go to the state’s wonderful universities.”

window frameCurrently, Virginia has the ninth largest student enrollment in the nation, according to the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia. SCHEV estimates that by the fall of 2010, the four-year universities alone will need to accommodate 194,641 students, an increase of 11 percent, from the fall of 2000. Most of them will come from the localities near the Interstate 95/I-64 corridor on the eastern side of the state.

What facilities await the Kiely children and other students? The average age of campus buildings slated for renovation is 50 years, which is past the average usefulness of 30 to 40 years set by industry standards. Sixty-eight of 122 projects statewide would be renovations.

For U.Va.’s College of Arts & Sciences, the University’s largest school, that average age of buildings is even higher.

On Nov. 5, citizens will vote on whether to provide $846 million in bonds for educational facilities around the state. That total includes $68.3 million toward the following facilities and improvements at U.Va. (the balance will be funded by private gifts or through other sources):

• MR-6 (Medical Research Building), a new structure for advances in immunology, infectious diseases and cancer research: $24.2 million (total cost: $50 million)

• A new Arts & Sciences building to replace deteriorating facilities: $14.3 million (part of the $125 million South Lawn project)

• A new nanotechnology and materials science and engineering building to foster technological innovations: $7 million (total cost: $34 million)

• Renovation of teaching laboratories in Gilmer Hall to support instruction in biology and psychology: $5.7 million

• Renovation of Fayerweather Hall, a 19th-century gymnasium now housing the McIntire Department of Art: $4.6 million

• A new engineering/science chiller plant to provide cooling for new construction and replace outdated CFC-based technology: $4.8 million

• Replacing the Campbell Hall chiller to increase capacity for new construction and replace chronically malfunctioning equipment: $1.6 million

• Constructing a regional storm-water management system for McCormick and North Grounds, including restoring Meadow Creek and constructing a pond near the new arena: $1.4 million.


Voter’s ballot
The higher education bond referendum that will be on the ballot Nov. 5 reads as follows:

Shall Chapter 859, Acts of the General Assembly of 2002, authorizing the issuance of general obligation bonds of the Commonwealth of Virginia in the maximum amount of $900,488,645 pursuant to Article X, Section 9(b) of the Constitution of Virginia for capital projects for educational facilities, take effect?

“If we want to maintain our position in American public higher education, we simply have no choice but to increase and improve the quality of the space in which we do our basic work,” said Edward L. Ayers, Arts & Sciences dean.

The bond issue would help renovate science labs and art studios as well as provide $14.3 million toward the College’s $125 million South Lawn construction project.

“We know some buildings are in significantly bad shape. It’s an investment for the state to upgrade and maintain them,” said Frances C. Bradford, coordinator for communications and government relations at SCHEV.

Devolites, who has studied research and development in the state, said it’s an important component for top-quality universities. About $200 million of the bond funding would go to medical, engineering and science research buildlings.

Subsequent commercialization can’t happen without the R&D, she said. “It’s an excellent investment for the state.”

SCHEV recently endorsed the $900 million bond proposal for similar reasons, warning in a report that “the Commonwealth is not keeping pace with other states in this critical area [of support for higher education research] that provides life-saving advances in medicine and scientific discovery, and contributes to job creation and economic competitiveness.”

Added Bradford, “To do groundbreaking research, our schools need up-to-date labs. That will also help attract other good faculty and good students.”

The bond package could generate more than $1.5 billion in economic activity by 2008 and create nearly 14,000 jobs, according to estimates of how much construction work it will take to complete the projects and how much revenue will be generated, Bradford said.

Virginia’s bond package would require neither a direct tax increase nor a tuition hike to repay the loans. More than a dozen business organizations from across the state already have endorsed it, including several chambers of commerce groups and the Virginia Business Higher Education Council.

“The state’s AAA bond rating means that we get the very best interest rates available,” said Colette Sheehy, U.Va.’s vice president of management and budget. “The state is short of cash but has a fairly generous amount of debt capacity to use.”

In its analysis of the need for a well-educated and well-trained workforce, SCHEV found two key areas wanting: information technology and teaching. The bond package would help provide better facilities for students to pursue these areas. It would also provide funds for the community college system to establish five work-force training centers.

“We learned in 1992 that [general obligation bonds] generate jobs for people who need them in tight times,” said Casteen. “The fact that GOBs like this one do this without raising taxes makes them doubly attractive at this time.

“Virginia has built up a lot of financial problems. This is a chance for voters to solve one themselves.”



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