Two Western Pennsylvania campuses will share part of nearly $32 million in new debt approved Thursday by the board overseeing Pennsylvania's 14 state-owned universities.
It is the smallest annual amount of new construction debt approved by the panel in at least a decade.
The State System of Higher Education's board of governors OK'd the bond funds for dining hall construction at Indiana University of Pennsylvania and for an expansion of the Natali Student Center at California University of Pennsylvania.
Those projects will receive approximately $18.2 million and $12.2 million, respectively. Another $1 million in debt was approved for stadium turf replacement at Mansfield University in northcentral Pennsylvania. All three projects will shoulder combined contingency and issuance fees totaling 1.5 percent or $472,000.
The State System now requires member universities to place into escrow money that they pledge toward bond-financed work, but the amounts set aside for these projects were not immediately available from officials following the board's meeting in Harrisburg.
In December, Cal U officials said they expected the State System board would issue debt this spring for the $30 million center expansion totaling $28 million, to be paid off by the university over 25 years through fee increases students previously approved.
The $12.2 million in debt OK'd for the Natali project Thursday is for early-stage work, with the rest to be issued as needed, State System spokesman Kenn Marshall said. Auxiliary Cal U funds will pay for the rest of the expansion.
If no other construction debt is subsequently authorized by the end of the fiscal year on June 30, the debt approved by the board of governors Thursday will be the smallest yearly total for construction and building improvements across the State System since at least 2003, when $25.2 million was authorized for an ongoing project to acquire and install residence-hall sprinklers.
Before Thursday's vote, State System debt had roughly doubled over the past decade to about $942 million, not counting privatized debt taken out by university-affiliated groups for residence hall and other auxiliary projects, a sum estimated by Moody's Investors Services at nearly $1 billion.
Some on the campuses have expressed concern about the borrowing, but Mr. Marshall said it was not a factor in the size of Thursday's bond issue.
"It just may be there was some curtailment of projects that are capital-funded," Mr. Marshall said, alluding to a recent state cut in the system's yearly capital budget from about $130 million to $65 million.
Projects more likely to use debt are not those but rather residence hall, student center and dining hall projects that as auxiliary work are not eligible for state funds.
"A lot of those projects already have been done," he said.
About 115,000 students attend State System universities in Western Pennsylvania, including Cal U, Clarion, Edinboro, Indiana and Slippery Rock.
On Thursday, the board also:
• Conferred the status of chairman emeritus on Kenneth Jarin, board of governors chair from July 2005 to June 2011;
• Named George F. "Jody" Harpster as interim Shippensburg University president;
• Approved a new bachelor of arts in international studies at Shippensburg that will encourage collaboration with other State System schools, including Cal U, where officials said students might take Arabic courses online to complement the major's Africa and Middle East studies concentration.
Bill Schackner: email@example.com, 412-263-1977 and on Twitter: @BschacknerPG First Published April 11, 2013 4:30 PM