Murray State awaits agency bond approval

Torrey Perkins, freshman from Huntsville, Ala., pauses on her way out Hester Residential College Wednesday evening. Hester is in line for renovations similar to those that gutted Elizabeth College almost a year ago. The University is now looking to the Kentucky General Assembly to approve the $9.9 million project. || Austin Ramsey/The News
Torrey Perkins, freshman from Huntsville, Ala., pauses on her way out Hester Residential College Wednesday evening. Hester is in line for renovations similar to those that gutted Elizabeth College almost a year ago. The University is now looking to the Kentucky General Assembly to approve the $9.9 million project. || Austin Ramsey/The News

Torrey Perkins, freshman from Huntsville, Ala., pauses on her way out Hester Residential College Wednesday evening. Hester is in line for renovations similar to those that gutted Elizabeth College almost a year ago. The University is now looking to the Kentucky General Assembly to approve the $9.9 million project. || Austin Ramsey/The News

Gov. Steve Beshear announced earlier this month a plan approving the issuance of bonds by Kentucky’s public universities for campus improvements, which would be supported by university revenues.

The agency bonds are at no cost to taxpayers and are issued by the individual universities.

Murray State would receive $9.9 million for Hester Residential College dormitory renovations, $590,000 for the College Courts sprinkler system upgrade and $4.9 million for other assorted facility improvements.

The improvements at Hester will include replacing the current electrical, HVAC and plumbing systems, lavatory improvements, along with flooring, ceiling and lighting upgrades.

The renovations, which will take approximately 14 months, could begin as early as July 1.

The $590,000 fire safety renovation to College Courts could begin in July 2013 and would take approximately one year. The other assorted projects should accommodate housing needs by June 30, 2014.

The planned projects include roof replacements at Hart Residential College and College Courts as well as hot water heater replacements, exterior repairs and renovations to College Courts. Five residential colleges will have heating and cooling systems replaced and two residential colleges will have work done in order to remove asbestos.

Beshear plans to authorize $363.3 million in agency bonds, which will have an estimated economic impact of nearly $623 million and support 5,110 jobs.  A bill will be filed soon to authorize the bonds.

“Agency bonds will meet the growing needs of our universities with no impact on the General Fund, as they will be paid for through existing revenue streams such as student fees and athletic revenues,” Beshear said.  “I appreciate the universities’ continued good stewardship during these tough economic times.  At a time when we are pushing our students to pursue higher education, it’s imperative that they have adequate classrooms, housing and facilities. The issuance of these bonds will accelerate those projects to meet those needs quickly.”

The general fund support for the universities has been cut 15 percent in the last six years. The bonds were proposed in the last legislative session but were not authorized and no new fees are proposed to support the bonds.

Student Government Association President Jeremiah Johnson said he thinks it is very important for all of the universities in Kentucky to have access to this funding, because it allows universities to complete various projects on campus.

“Completing the projects of Hester, College Courts and other facility improvements allows us to keep our students safe as well as update the current facilities to keep that standard of excellence Murray State is known for,” Johnson said. “I am very pleased and thankful that the governor still maintains higher education as a high priority during the current economic times.”

Murray State’s planned renovations and upgrades will total $15.4 million and create 200 jobs.

Kim Oatman, director of Facilities Management, said Beshear is basically in support of allowing universities to issue bonds for capital projects in which the universities are sure they can pay for.

“The state will not be giving any funds to the universities for these projects, they would only be giving the universities the authorization to spend their own money,” Oatman said. “Furthermore, while the governor is in support of this concept, it would still have to have legislative approval before universities are able to start any projects.”

Oatman said Murray State has not received any funds for the projects.

He said if the University gets legislative approval, which would not come until late March, the plan would be to issue the bonds and begin design on these projects in the spring.

“We would also plan to get about half of the other projects, which are roughly $2.8 million, completed in the summer and the other half of the projects completed by summer of 2014,” Oatman said. “The schedules are still tentative, so they are subject to change.”

Kentucky’s eight university presidents are united in support of the plan, noting that accelerating these long-delayed projects will save money in construction costs and avoid additional cost burdens for students.

Council on Postsecondary Education President Bob King said the council and Kentucky’s public universities are very grateful for the support of the Governor and legislative leaders for these projects.

“We also appreciate the confidence this action expresses in the judgment and leadership our campus presidents demonstrate in meeting the needs of our students, faculty and staff,” King said.

The proposal includes 11 construction projects at six institutions that are ready to be financed and will move forward as soon as authorization is given by the General Assembly.

Several projects will address outdated or inadequate student housing; others will improve existing classroom spaces.  University presidents said these projects will provide a safer experience for students and faculty, improve campus quality of life and avoid additional cost burdens for students.

All of the projects are in the beginning stages of planning by the universities, and construction for most projects will begin this calendar year.

 Story by Meghann Anderson, News Editor.