POLITICS and POLICY: State Asks Ohio Colleges for Construction Projects
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The state has asked Ohio’s public colleges and universities to work together to form a list of their top construction projects rather than compete for construction money as they currently do.
Gov. John Kasich asked the presidents of all 37 state schools to support the change in a meeting this past week, The Columbus Dispatch reported.
“The governor wants to encourage collaboration among our institutions of higher education, to have them working together as a university system rather than as individual institutions,” Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols told the newspaper.
The governor has asked Ohio State President Gordon Gee to help the schools reach a consensus on the projects most deserving of state dollars. He’ll work to construct the list with a planning committee made up of the leaders of the two higher-education associations and a representative from each of the four-year universities and two-year colleges.
The group has until mid-February to hand in its targeted projects to state budget officials.
The Kasich administration has said the 2013-14 capital budget will be “restrained,” with a priority placed on maintaining facilities rather than building new ones.
Several higher-education leaders told the newspaper they were surprised by the state’s decision to change how the funds are divided among the schools. But they said they will try to reach an agreement.
“I’m just glad there is going to be a capital budget at all,” said David Harrison, president of Columbus State Community College.
After getting nearly $431 million in 2009-10, the state schools received nothing in 2011-12, the current two-year budget, according to the newspaper.
Harrison said his college’s top priority is the $15.2 million renovation of a building that houses laboratories used in nursing, respiratory care, early-childhood development and anatomy instruction.
The head of the Ohio Association of Community Colleges said it’ll be challenging to ensure each school is treated equally.
“I’m just hoping we can do this in a way that is meaningful and respectful of everyone’s needs,” said Ronald Abrams, the association’s executive director.
Abrams said some schools “aren’t thrilled” about moving away from a funding formula that had assured that every campus “got a little something” and been in use for about 14 years.
Before the 2011-12 capital budget that provided no money, Ohio’s universities already faced a $5 billion backlog in deferred maintenance, the newspaper reported.
“Skipping a capital budget is an unmitigated disaster,” said Bruce Johnson, president of the Inter-University Council of Ohio, which represents the state’s 14 public four-year universities.
Johnson said more state investment is needed for Ohio schools to remain competitive, but he’s grateful for the chance to choose projects that bolster the state’s economic goals.