UM curators discuss renovations to engineering facilities

Friday, January 31, 2014 | 7:14 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — Proposed renovations to MU's Lafferre Hall, home to the College of Engineering, were a focal point of discussions Friday at the UM System Board of Curators meeting.

Lafferre Hall, which has undergone seven renovations since 1892, requires an estimated $32.6 million in renovations, according to board documents.

In a presentation to the board, Gary Ward, MU interim vice chancellor of administrative services, made the case that renovations to Lafferre Hall would create a more suitable environment for labs, classrooms and study facilities.

"It's not about the building," Ward said. "It's about teaching and research."

Ward said the renovations would add capacity for 20 new faculty members, which would lead to increased research productivity of an estimated $21 million per year. 

The renovations would also provide space for undergraduate enrollment to grow to 4,000 and potentially create more than 400 additional annual degrees, he said.

Thomas Richards, UM System interim vice president for finance and treasurer, said the estimated cost for all system renovation projects is about $200 million. MU estimated renovations make up $102 million.

UM System President Tim Wolfe said he supports renovations to Lafferre Hall and other STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — facilities across the UM System campuses.

Wolfe said that there is a growing need to fill STEM-related jobs, which will not be met if the need for renovated labs and facilities is not addressed. 

"Our biggest bottleneck right now in producing STEM graduates and maintaining the mission we've got for the University of Missouri System is buildings. That's it. It's buildings," Wolfe said. 

He said that although the system is making an effort to raise efficiency by offering many courses online, there is not yet an online substitute for hands-on lab experience.

The curators discussed several potential funding scenarios:

  • Divide the $200 million over 15 years with a $17.7 million annual debt service.
  • A 50/50 matching program, where the state would match all donations by businesses and private donors. Wolfe said the UM System has already received $40 million in commitments that's hoping for a match from the state.
  • Attempt to increase alumni donations.
  • Add a $300 to $350 student facilities fee. Wolfe said this is the last resort in funding renovations.

The curators said they hope the renovations to Lafferre Hall and the other STEM facilities will happen within the next five years.

Board Chairman Don Downing announced that he has chosen alternative sources of revenue as his 2014 theme. The board spent part of an all-day retreat on Thursday talking about fundraising.

Downing especially wants to focus on getting more alumni to donate and for them to give bigger sums of money. He said the average MU alumnus donation is $688, which is about $400 less than average donations at the University of Kansas and the University of Illinois.

If donations to MU are brought up to match its peers, Downing said, they would generate an additional $14 million in revenue.

Curators review financial aid

Hank Foley, UM executive vice president of academic affairs, guided the curators through the 2013 financial aid report.

The report showed:

  • Federal support for financial aid is up 27 percent from 2009.
  • State support is down 24 percent from 2009.
  • Institutional support is up 19 percent from 2009.
  • Lower-income undergraduates have the largest amount of unmet financial need. They also take out the largest loans. 

Foley said UM System enrollments are increasing, and the financial aid trends show students with financial need continue to receive access to the university.

No update in independent counsel in Menu Courey situation

At a brief news conference after the board meeting concluded, Downing said the process of contacting firms to conduct an independent review of MU's handling of the Sasha Menu Courey situation has begun.

On Wednesday, the curators approved Wolfe's request to hire an independent counsel.

Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.

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