University of Wisconsin approves $1.9B capital construction program
- The University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents approved a $1.96 billion 2019-2021 capital program that would pay for construction and physical plant projects ranging from a $3.5 million heating plant chiller and cooling tower replacement to a $300 million all-agency projects funding program.
- The capital program, according to the university, will concentrate on the repair, renovation and replacement of of campus structures built between 1950 and 1979m which make up 60% of the institution's buildings. Other planned projects include $38 million of lab and classroom renovations at several campuses; a $35 million, 366-bed residence hall renovation and upgrade at UW-Stout in Menomonie, Wisconsin; a $40.7 million renovation of the student union at the Milwaukee campus; construction of a new $83 million science center at UW-La Crosse in La Crosse, Wisconsin; and a $111 million science and technology innovation center at the university's campus in River Falls, Wisconsin.
- The board will now submit the budget to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker as part of a request that he include it in his 2019-2021 biennial executive budget. In 2014, according to the Miami Herald, the university increased student fees to help fund its capital construction program.
Higher education data and analysis company Sightlines said that its 2017 report, issued in January, was the fourth one in a row that documented the trend of universities and colleges choosing to build new space at a rate faster than enrollment. In fact, the group's 2017 report, "State of Facilities in Higher Education," found that institutions of higher learning, for the 10-year period ending December 2016, grew their stock of new structures by 10% even though enrollment increased by only 8%. There is a sub-group, which the company labels as "risky," that is expanding at a rate of up to 50%, taking a chance that their current negligible or declining enrollment rates will increase in response.
This is great news for construction companies that specialize in higher education, but not-so-great news for the faculty and students that have to live and work in old buildings, and even worse news for maintenance staff that have to employ Band-Aid-type fixes to keep everything running. Research universities were the only exception, where enrollment (+14%) outpaced capital construction growth (+11%).
Some universities and colleges, just like other owners, are turning to public-private partnerships to get their new projects built. In March, Kent State University announced it would embark on a 10-year program of construction, valued at more than $1 billion, at its campus in Kent, Ohio. University officials said they would use a P3 to build a $21 million mixed-use development between the campus and downtown and maybe use a P3 to construct a $73 million business administration building.
- University of Wisconsin System Regents approve UW System’s 2019-21 budget requests
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