UM curators give green light to financing for building projects

Monday, November 22, 2010 | 3:56 p.m. CST; updated 4:24 p.m. CST, Monday, November 22, 2010

COLUMBIA — Mark Twain Residence Hall at MU hasn't had a major renovation since it was constructed in 1965.

With new debt financing approved by the UM System's governing board Monday, the university can now go forward with a capital building project that could give the building at least 30 more years of life.

The UM System Board of Curators met via videoconference to decide whether the system should take on additional debt to finance various construction projects across its four campuses.

The board voted to issue up to $265 million in bonds via Build America Bonds to finance 12 projects, including the Mark Twain renovation. The bond program, part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, was designed to boost municipal bonds following the stock market crash in 2008.

The construction projects will create thousands of jobs across the state, and "this is our role in part of the economic well-being of the state," UM System President Gary Forsee said at a post-meeting news conference. "That's a unique role we play."

Other MU projects include renovations to the East Campus Chilled Water Plant, a heat and power upgrade for the power plant and a replacement for the South Campus storm sewer.

University of Missouri Health Care also will benefit from the board's decision: Green Meadows Outpatient Care Center will receive $30 million to expand to 84,000 square feet, and $51.7 debt financing will aid the already approved $200 million project for the patient care tower and Ellis Fischel Cancer Center.

Although the curators voted on the projects collectively, they were considered on an individual basis, Forsee said.

"Each project had a case made for why it should go forward," he said.

Left out of the list of approved projects were the Benton-Stadler building at University of Missouri-St. Louis and a chemical and biological engineering building at Missouri University of Science and Technology with a total projected cost of $67 million.

"We leave behind these projects for now but realize that the need is acute and needs to be addressed as quickly as we can find a way to do that," Forsee said.

The two projects were eliminated from the list to avoid increasing student fees, which Forsee said the board should avoid because of the likelihood that in-state tuition across the four campuses will have to rise.

"I don't want to put us at risk because of the complexity that a facility fee would put on top of that," he said.

Curator Don Downing said the board should reconsider the two projects in the future, arguing that there is a business case to be made for them.

"Those buildings would be a very strong attraction to new students to the campus over the long term," Downing said during the meeting.

The curators will meet again Dec. 9 in St. Louis and are expected to discuss how much each campus should increase its tuition to offset expected cuts to the state budget for higher education.

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