Cal U seeks to fund new science building

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California University of Pennsylvania's hope of completing a five-year, $81 million campus construction plan without incurring more debt appears to hinge on finding $14.5 million extra toward the plan's biggest project -- a proposed $34.5 million science building.

A school that has worked to stabilize its finances in the months since its previous president was fired provided additional details about the capital plan for 2013-18 presented last week to Cal U's council of trustees.

"I think the key here is this is very early in the process," university spokeswoman Christine Kindl said Thursday.

Cal U says three of the four projects will be fully funded by the state. They include a $10.3 million renovation of the old industrial arts building, Coover Hall, which houses the applied engineering and technology department; the $12.7 million renovation of Morgan Hall, which holds classes for communications studies and other academic programs, and a $23.7 million renovation and addition to Keystone Hall, housing the college of education and human services.

However, the $20 million in state funding authorized to date for the new science building leaves a funding gap of approximately $14.5 million.

Robert Thorn, Cal U vice president for administration and finance, told trustees that the school expects to fill about half that gap with private donations. Specifically, the university plans to raise 20 percent to 25 percent of the project, or between $6.8 million and $8.6 million, Ms. Kindl said.

That still leaves approximately $5.9 million to $7.7 million to be raised toward the building. The university can approach the state Legislature for funding beyond what already is authorized, though Cal U at this point has no commitment of extra funds, Ms Kindl said.

The planned facility is aligned with plans to boost enrollment in high demand science and technology fields across the State System of Higher Education, which oversees state-owned universities including Cal U, officials said. The new facility would be cheaper than renovating existing structures, they said.

"We know the State System considers this a worthwhile project. But it's still very much in the planning stages, and part of that planning has to do with making sure we have appropriate funding in place," Ms. Kindl said.

In May, the State System fired longtime Cal U president Angelo Armenti Jr. without explanation amid campus complaints about rising debt and spending practices. The school, which saw a 9 percent enrollment decline last fall, eliminated and froze certain student fees to woo back students while reigning in spending.

But Cal U trustees opted to proceed with a $30 million student center expansion that had been delayed for months. Calling the Natali Student Center project critical to attracting students, the university said the State System is expected to float $28 million in debt to be paid back by Cal U over 25 years through higher student fees.

At the time of the council's December decision, Cal U already had debt totalling $99 million.

Last week, trustee Robert Miner asked what effect the $81 million plan would have on the school's indebtedness. "There will be no impact on our current debt," Mr. Thorn replied.

education - neigh_washington

Bill Schackner: bschackner@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1977 and on Twitter: @BschacknerPG.


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