The renovation of the University of Oregon’s Huestis Hall, a biological sciences hub in the Lokey Science Complex, is among a number of Oregon university projects that might be getting state funding, under the state’s new 10-year capital plan.
Last October, the Higher Education Coordinating Commission, a state higher education administrative body, announced the plan, which is meant to provide “strategic guidance” for the improvement of public university capital assets for the next decade, according to a press release. The plan, which is the first-ever for Oregon’s seven public universities, will help the state prioritize funding for renovation or construction. Now, the list of prioritized projects from those universities is available.
The universities were required to submit their projects for funding requests in late October. A list of 15 prioritized projects derived from those requests was reviewed by the Commission on Dec. 12, then submitted for state legislature consideration.
Jim Pinkard, director of postsecondary finance for HECC, said that the 15 project requests were chosen largely based on how they matched up with state goals.
“What we've done is provide a capital rubric, and that rubric is really an expression of what the state values,” Pinkard said. “This is the framework, this is the lens through which we view these projects, and how closely these projects align with what the state wants, the higher up the list they will be.”
Specifically, more than half of the potential 100 points available from the rubric involve project alignment with the capital plan by increasing the “efficiency and effectiveness of educational or general space,” addressing maintenance issues, supporting research and economic development and involving collaboration between a university and other public entities, according to an explanation of the recommendations in meeting materials.
Other factors HECC considered in the scoring included a commitment to capital sustainability, safety and code compliance, impact on the success of underserved student populations, specific institutional priority, and the ability for universities to match funding for projects.
“Each institution has a laundry list of facilities it wants to renovate. The institutions, by and large, submitted their top priorities,” Pinkad said, noting that the Huestis Hall proposal was the only one HECC received from UO.
Specifically, the Huestis Hall proposal was number five on the list, with a score of 89 out of 100. The bid is to “fully renovate Huestis Hall, eliminating a portion of the University of Oregon's (UO) deferred maintenance backlog and ameliorating serious security and safety issues,” according to the recommendation list.
The proposed renovation of the building would tend to certain code violations, update learning spaces and improve general accessibility. The list identifies the renovation's cost as amounting to $63.6 million, with $57.24 million provided by the state, and $6.36 million contributed by UO.
UO spokesperson Kay Jarvis said in a statement to the Emerald that UO is “cautiously optimistic” about the Huestis Hall project receiving state funding, noting that the state has recently invested in the Klamath and Chapman hall renovations at UO, and the construction of Tykeson Hall and the Knight Campus.
“Huestis was submitted for consideration in the 2019 session,” Jarvis said in the statement, “but the legislature deferred university capital project consideration to the 2020 session to allow for the HECC to complete its 10-year strategic capital development plan.”
An Around the O article published in August of 2018 identified the Huestis Hall renovation as a priority for the 2019 legislative session, with UO planning to request $54 million from the state. According to the piece, the state of Huestis Hall was limiting the number of students who could be educated in STEM because of the “current layout and substandard building systems.”
With the list compiled and forwarded to the state legislature before the 2020 legislative session begin on Feb. 3, Pinkard explained that due to the state's budgeting concerns, there is no certainty about which capital projects might get funded.
“During the short session, the capital construction committee will consider [the list] in their deliberations,” said Pinkard. “There are no guarantees. Frankly, the state legislature could look at the list and say 'Well, that's all well and good, but forget it, we're not funding any higher ed, or we're going to fund the top five, or top eight, or top two.' We hope that they can fund what they feel is appropriate according to that priority, but that's completely up to them.”