Penn State halts construction worth millions

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Fallout over Gov. Tom Corbett's proposed halving of money for public universities now includes a decision by Penn State University to put a hold on tens of millions of dollars in new building projects.

The university's board of trustees, meeting Friday in New York City, said it acted because the governor's proposed budget, unveiled last week, would cut $182 million or 52 percent of the university's state funding.

Trustees endorsed the selection of architects for a number of the projects but delayed final authorization needed "for any capital projects to proceed until the funding picture becomes more clear," the university said in a statement following the vote.

It called the board's action unprecedented.

"The tremendous uncertainty that the proposed appropriation cuts present forces us to operate with a maximum amount of caution and care," said Al Horvath, senior vice president for finance and business.

The statement said the action covered all new main campus projects. But late Friday, spokeswoman Jill Shockey said the move apparently is wider than just the University Park campus.

Among the tens of millions of dollars in main campus projects affected are the planned expansion of the student union, the HUB-Robeson Center; renovations to the South Halls residence complex, Pattee Library and Cedar academic building; as well as steam line and chilled water plant works.

At least one project on another campus also has been put on hold: a dining hall at Penn State Altoona, Ms. Shockey said.

If Mr. Corbett's budget is enacted as proposed, appropriations would be halved at 17 other universities, including the University of Pittsburgh, Temple and Lincoln universities and the 14 state-owned universities of the State System of Higher Education.

Penn State President Graham Spanier told trustees meeting at the New York Helmsley Hotel in Manhattan that the cuts would force the university "to put everything on the table," and in recent days the university has said the response could range from closure of some of Penn State's 24 campuses and hundreds of layoffs to salary freezes and a substantial tuition increase.

On Wednesday, leaders of Pitt, Penn State, Temple and Lincoln sought relief from the cuts in remarks before the state Senate Appropriations Committee. Similar remarks are expected next week by leadership of the State System, which includes California, Clarion, Edinboro, Indiana and Slippery Rock universities in Western Pennsylvania.


Bill Schackner: bschackner@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1977.


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