COLUMBIA — Improvements to the University of Missouri System's STEM facilities — those related to science, technology, engineering and math — topped the list of capital state funding requested by the university for the 2016 fiscal year.
The UM System Board of Curators unanimously approved the request at a meeting Friday. The board also approved the system's request for operating funding for 2016 — a total of $521.4 million among the system’s four campuses, $24.9 million of which would also go toward STEM initiatives.
To view the complete documents prepared for the Friday meeting, click here.
Almost $243 million in state funding has been requested for the rehabilitation of STEM facilities throughout the system.
The funding request doubles as a way to repair buildings that have deferred maintenance needs, said Thomas Richards, interim system vice president for finance. This allows the university to achieve several goals at once.
MU requested $104.3 million for its STEM Renovation and Rehabilitation Project, which includes renovations to five campus buildings and would eliminate $57.6 million of deferred maintenance, according to board documents.
In 2013, MU’s deferred maintenance added up to $552 million and grows by $22 million each year, according to previous Missourian reporting.
According to board documents, the STEM project would have a $255.6 million impact on Missouri's economy, generate $76.6 million in state earnings and create 1,930 jobs statewide.
MU buildings included in the STEM project are:
- Lafferre Hall — The building, most of which was built before 1950, makes up 70 percent of the College of Engineering's space at MU. Funding would pay for the consolidation of undergraduate teaching labs on the first floor, helping to support a nearly 60 percent growth in enrollment over the past seven years, according to board documents.
- McKee Hall — Built in 1922 as the "Women’s Gymnasium," McKee has undergone few renovations, according to board documents. Proposed renovations for the building are aimed at utilizing nearly 3,500 square feet created when a swimming pool was in-filled in 2005. The space could hold six new labs for several types of basic science courses, increasing the class lab capacity up to 144 student stations and allowing more than 2,500 students to be enrolled each year, according to board documents.
- Waters Hall — More than 100 years old, Waters is one of several buildings used by the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources and the Division of Plant Sciences. About 7,500 students use the building each year, despite needed improvements in classrooms and research labs, according to the documents. In the event of future facility consolidation, the curators think a renovated Waters Hall could be used for various types of science courses.
- Mumford Hall — Built in 1922, the building serves about 2,500 students each year through its large lecture hall, class laboratory and classrooms. By renovating Mumford, MU hopes to provide more access to STEM laboratory courses for students, as well as eliminate leftover maintenance on campus buildings, according to board documents.
- Stewart Hall — Built in 1912, about 9,500 students use Stewart Hall each year for its auditorium, nine laboratories and two classrooms. Having identified a critical need for more labs, MU hopes to allow more students access to STEM laboratory courses by improving Stewart Hall’s facilities. According to board documents, renovating the hall would also address MU’s need to eliminate deferred maintenance in general and educational buildings across campus.
Board documents cite economic studies that show a state’s prosperity depends on STEM education and research in its universities. A 2010 Missouri Gateway-Skills Report predicted a more than 22 percent increase in STEM-related jobs by 2018 and the university "has a responsibility to the state for producing educated graduates to meet those workforce needs," according to the documents.
Richards, who presented the request to the board, said the university has deliberately focused on funding for STEM initiatives as a way to create a clear message for legislators.
"What we'd like to do … is really to develop a very clear story about this initiative as a whole that will make it easier to explain to legislators," Richards said. "We want to make it very focused, very targeted from this point forward. This will be part of the message when selling this project."
During a January curators meeting, UM System President Tim Wolfe said he supported renovations to Lafferre Hall and other STEM facilities at the four system campuses.
He said in January that there is a growing need to fill STEM-related jobs and the condition of the university's buildings keeps the system from maintaining its mission and producing STEM graduates.
The university's request for general operations funding included $441 million in recurring appropriations — those that are anticipated to be granted every year.
In addition to the recurring funds, the board approved $53.1 million in new state funding requests, including a total of $24.9 million in STEM funding.
Of that request, $12.9 million would be used for recruiting teachers and research faculty in STEM fields. Another $12 million in recurring funding was requested for the renovation and rehabilitation of STEM buildings.
Added to the list of operating requests was $12.3 million for the Caring for Missourians Mental Health Initiative, proposed by Gov. Jay Nixon in December 2013 as part of his budget for the 2015 fiscal year.
The initiative is a joint effort between Missouri’s public universities and the Missouri Department of Mental Health to provide aid to areas in the state that have a shortage of mental health providers.
The requests do not reflect the $98.1 million in UM funding being withheld by Nixon in an attempt to deter legislative overrides of his vetoes of 10 tax cut bills. If the legislature overrides the vetoes at its September session and Nixon continues to withhold funds, it would impact the requests, Richards said.
Wolfe said there were backup plans in place in the event that the tax bill vetoes are overridden, including a 1.5 percent increase in tuition.
Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.