Southeast Missouri State University battling 'crisis ready to happen'

Friday, October 22, 2010 | 2:30 p.m. CDT

CAPE GIRARDEAU — Looking to avert a "crisis ready to happen," Southeast Missouri State University goes before its board of regents Friday with a $56 million-plus campus maintenance and renovation plan.

The university will seek approval to sell $55 million in bonds for the proposed project, which includes a $22.78 million upgrade of the campus' century-old Academic Hall and a nearly $18 million renovation of Magill Hall, the university's science building. The proposal also calls for more than $6 million in deferred maintenance projects and nearly $7 million in power plant upgrades.

An ad hoc committee recommends a $56.73 million plan, while Southeast president Ken Dobbins is pitching a $58.25 million proposal, including more money for deferred maintenance, with $3 million from projected gifts.

If approved, the bulk of the project would take three years to complete, with construction set to begin next summer. Financing would be shored up in December.

Dobbins said the time is right to borrow. If it acts by the end of the year, the university could take advantage of Build America Bonds, low-interest bonds available through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

"It's a great time to sell bonds because of the interest rate, but also construction jobs are few and far between and we think we can get really good prices on bids for construction," Dobbins said.

The projects would be paid for in part through the portion of student fees marked for campus maintenance. Those fees could climb $5 per credit hour under a proposal, according to an administrator, though the increase may be phased in.

Academic Hall

Built in 1904-1905, Southeast's showpiece Academic Hall is showing its age, university administrators say. The building, which houses administration, has its original plumbing, windows, roof and landmark dome, Dobbins said. In January, pipes burst in the registrar's office, drenching tuition checks and receipts.

"There used to be a swimming pool in the bottom of Academic," Dobbins said. "The concern I have is one of these days we will come back from a long holiday and the pool will reappear.

"Academic [Hall] is a crisis ready to happen."

The renovation proposal budgets $8.5 million for building infrastructure — including plumbing, electrical and heating and ventilation and air conditioning. Another $4.6 million would be earmarked for interior improvements, including $368,000 in renovations to the auditorium, which has been closed due to structural problems. And nearly $4 million would pay for repairs to the building envelope, with $1.88 million targeted for dome renovation.

Administrators say the cost of erecting a new administration building would exceed the expense of renovating Academic Hall, and they wouldn't dream of tearing down the historic property. Kathy Mangels, vice president for finance and administration, said estimates for Magill Hall, for instance, peg the cost of building anew at $288 per square foot versus $155 per square foot to remodel the 64,000-square-foot science facility.

Magill Hall

Magill Hall opened in 1960, and administrators say it is ill-equipped to meet the needs of the next generation of science students.

"They are taking classes in labs that are 50 years old," Mangels said. "They should expect more at a college-level course."

The plan includes a three-story addition to the north of the hall, housing mechanical space for air handling equipment, as well as a computer lab and two lecture classrooms. More critical, the interior renovation would allow for the complete remediation of all hazardous materials within the building, including americium-241 and asbestos-containing materials, university documents say.

Campus power

Facing significant and regulatory challenges from a coal-fired boiler system that is nearly 50 years old, the university proposes converting campus power to natural gas. While gas traditionally costs more, Dobbins said Southeast power will break even through efficiencies and the reduction of four power plant positions.

Deferred maintenance

Southeast Missouri State University includes nearly a half-billion dollars in plant assets, and the state allocates about $1 million a year for maintenance costs, Dobbins said. Consequently, buildings campuswide have gone years without proper repair, the administrator said. The ad hoc committee recommends a slate of "Priority 1" deferred maintenance projects topping $6.1 million; Dobbins added "Priority 2" projects, at an additional cost of $3.5 million.

The campus renovation plan is bigger than a $40 million proposal regents mulled over at their July meeting, with costs rising on all of the major elements.

The Southeast Missouri State University Board of Regents meets at 12:30 p.m. Friday in Glenn Auditorium of Dempster Hall.

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