Regents approve, rank proposals for higher ed construction projects, though state funding remains uncertain amid budget cuts
The Board of Regents approved and prioritized proposals for a number of capital construction projects across the eight institutions of the Nevada System of Higher Education on Friday, though the ultimate fate of the projects will rest with the state’s Department of Public Works.
Such proposals come at a time of incredible financial strain on public agencies, which are expected to see billions of dollars in budget shortfalls over the current two-year budget cycle as a result of economic slowdown driven by the coronavirus. Fiscal analyst Jeremy Aguero told The Nevada Independent that the holes could be between $700 and $900 million for the fiscal year ending in June, and between $1 billion and $2 billion in the 2021 fiscal year, together cutting the state’s $9 billion budget by nearly a third.
Regent Trevor Hayes noted that even though regents spent roughly two hours hearing and deliberating on the order of projects, “the sad part is, we spent a lot of time on this and based on the budget situation, we may not get anything or very little.”
No new budget details were available at Friday’s meeting, though regents had previously approved budget cut scenarios of 4 percent in 2020 and either 6, 10 or 14 percent in 2021. In total, those proposals could cut between $68 and $124 million from the system's budget over the next two fiscal years.
At the top of the list for construction projects is a new engineering building at UNLV, for which the university will request an additional $13.1 million to match university fundraising and kickstart construction.
Other projects approved by the regents include, in order of priority:
- $3.3 million for an expansion of Great Basin College’s welding lab
- $1.5 million for the renovation of Western Nevada College’s 22-year-old Marlette Hall
- $30 million in additional funding for deferred maintenance costs for Life Safety and ADA projects at a number of NSHE institutions
- $2 million for the Winnemucca Health Sciences and Technology building at GBC
- $12 million for an academic village complex at Nevada State College
- $6 million for the renovation of CSN’s Sahara West facility
- $40 million for an interdisciplinary science and technology building at UNLV
- $6 million for a Fernley Campus for WNC
- $8 million for campus infrastructure improvements at NSC
Regents also prioritized proposals for a number of planning expenses related to the construction of new capital projects further down the line, including:
- $6 million for a joint TMCC-DRI Science Commons and Research Center meant to provide facilities to both schools and foster a growing number of STEM students at Reno’s community college
- $3.8 million for a “STEAM” academic building at Nevada State College
- $5 million each for new buildings at UNLV for the Business College and School of Fine Arts
- $4.1 million for a new “Northwest Campus” for the College of Southern Nevada, meant to service the community near Sky Canyon and Providence
- $150,000 for the Rogers Science and Technology Building for the Desert Research Institute in Las Vegas
- $2.3 million in expenses for the Pahrump Valley campus of GBC
- $3.4 million in planning funds for a new life sciences building at UNR
Regents also reviewed the results of an annual space utilization study Wednesday, which largely found buildings at the state’s community colleges to be underused — or sometimes entirely unused — on Fridays and Saturdays.
Some regents, including Rick Trachok, said the community colleges should look to prioritize the use of such space ahead of the construction of new facilities.
“As we're going into a tight budget situation with significant cuts like we are, I think it's incumbent upon all of our institutions to more efficiently use the space that we have, particularly with the community colleges,” Trachok said. “I think it's important for them to be focused on when the students need the class time, not when we think it's convenient for us or our faculties or staff to be offering the courses.”
But Great Basin College President Joyce Helens pushed back, saying the vacancy study could not show certain limitations on certain spaces, pointing specifically to the unsuitability of a welding lab to host an English class.