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UW getting most of its construction wish list in new budget

Mar 23, 2012 - By Bob Moen, The Associated Press

CHEYENNE -- The University of Wyoming will remain a beehive of construction after the state Legislature granted, and in some cases added to, most of UW's requests for capital projects funding in the next budget.

Despite concerns about declining future state revenues, the $3.2 billion budget lawmakers approved for the next two years includes money to build a new performing arts center and a new College of Engineering facility and to remodel both the Arena-Auditorium basketball arena and the Half Acre Recreation Center.

Don Richards, UW vice president for government and community affairs, said for the most part the Legislature was generous to the state's only four-year public university in providing one-time funding for building projects while mostly holding the line on operational expenses, such as employee salaries, that tend to grow.

Richards, who presented a report to UW trustees on Thursday on how the university fared in the recently completed budget session, said UW's top priority of faculty and staff raises was not granted. But he noted that almost all state workers did not get pay raises because of declining revenue from natural gas production in the state.

"We appreciate the fact that they were much more conservative relative to any recurring requests, and I think they were aspirational relative to the university despite an uncertain revenue picture," Richards said.

Lawmakers approved roughly half of UW's request for library materials, high performance computing and brucellosis research.

Richards said the $1.8 million approved for purchasing library books and periodicals will advance UW's drive to become part of a regional college library organization that is an "important tool to attract and retain faculty and staff."

"It's a big group of universities that shares and in order to become part of the group you need to have collections that are of interest to other institutions," he said.

The Legislature earmarked $14.2 million for a new performing arts building and authorized the university to issue $10 million to renovate the White Hall dormitory.

Lawmakers set aside $30 million for a new engineering project even though the university was only looking for about $1 million to cover architect and design costs. Richards said the project is estimated by some to cost up to $100 million, so the $30 million was a pleasant first step in securing money for the project.

The state budget includes $15 million to renovate the Half Acre gym on campus, and lawmakers gave UW authority to issue an additional $12 million in bonds to cover the remaining cost of the $27 million project.

Another $5.3 million was appropriated for a joint facility between UW and Northern Wyoming Community College for expanded agriculture research and outreach services in Sheridan. More than $20 million also was set aside to support energy related research.

Lawmakers also agreed to provide $10 million toward a $30 million renovation of the Arena-Auditorium, where UW men's and women's basketball teams play. The money will be provided as matching dollars, meaning the university will have to raise $10 million from private sources in order to get all the funds. UW was given authority to issue $10 million in bonds for the project.

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