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VOL. 132 | NO. 165 | Monday, August 21, 2017

Mississippi Universities Seek Bonds After 2017 Brought None

By JEFF AMY, Associated Press

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JACKSON, Miss. (AP) – Mississippi's eight public universities thought they had a deal with lawmakers for predictable bond funding each year. But the Legislature didn't do any general borrowing earlier this year. Now, as the universities make their yearly bond request, they're emphasizing the importance of a yearly money infusion to campus operations.

Higher Education Commissioner Glenn Boyce called on trustees, university presidents and their supporters to press lawmakers to avoid this year's outcome as the College Board on Thursday voted to forward university requests for 2018 bond money to the Legislature.

Not only did lawmakers not borrow, they cut maintenance money from regular appropriations as part of broader budget cuts.

"We absolutely are going to need everybody's advocacy and support to make sure this doesn't happen again," Boyce said.

After lawmakers failed to pass a bond bill in 2012, they made a three-year agreement with College Board leaders, promising to borrow a set amount of money each year for universities. That arrangement was supposed to continue over the current four-year legislative term, but it broke down last spring. That's because the yearly bond bill was killed during a dispute over transportation funding between House Speaker Philip Gunn and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves.

A list of top five priorities for each university totals $512 million, but universities don't expect to get anywhere near that much money.

The requests include some big-ticket items, including $30 million for a new kinesiology building at Mississippi State University, $15 million for the new science center that the University of Mississippi has already started work on, and $24 million toward an expansion of the Blair E. Batson Children's Hospital at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson.

But officials are emphasizing some smaller-bore maintenance projects, such as more money to finish overhauling the water and sewer system at Alcorn State University. Lawmakers did allocate $3 million last year to start work on the water treatment plant, which struggles with the highly alkaline water at the Lorman campus. But Alcorn President Alfred Rankins Jr. said the university's top priority is another $1.5 million to complete that work.

"The facility is outdated and we're trying to get ahead of it before we have a bad situation," Rankins said.

Boyce said universities are trying to renovate and reuse existing buildings to save money. One example of that is Jackson State University's $7.5 million request to pay for renovations of Stewart Hall. Although Jackson State has stopped renting hotel space and put a large renovated dormitory back into service recently, the university still has demand for more than the 2,800 beds it now offers. The university wants to renovate the now-vacant Stewart Hall, built in 1961, as a 180-bed men's dormitory.

"It is increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to keep our facilities to where students expect them and the quality levels we're expected to have," Boyce said. "We're being as creative as we possibly can through renovations."

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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