The University of Wyoming’s 10-year housing plan is in jeopardy after lawmakers moved to prohibit UW from demolishing and rebuilding its residence halls — a key component to the first phase of a potentially $245 million plan.
And funding for the planned Science Initiative Building — UW’s No. 1 funding priority during the 2018 budget session of the Wyoming Legislature — faces a tough fight as university advocates argue for its importance, UW Vice President for Governmental and Community Affairs Chris Boswell said.
“It’s tough to predict how this is going to go,” he said. “There’s a very strong House position in favor of full funding of the Science Initiative facility and very strong opposition in the Senate. That’s not new and ultimately what this will boil down to is negotiations either publicly or privately between those two houses and we’ll certainly do our best to participate vigorously.”
Boswell addressed the Board of Trustees during its meeting Wednesday via a conference call from Cheyenne, where he is currently representing UW’s interests as Wyoming’s 90 legislators meet to hash out the state budget.
Coming off a biennium in which more than $42 million was slashed from UW’s state block grant, UW leadership is advocating for an end to cuts, as well as the release of a previously appropriated $100 million set aside for the construction of the Science Initiative Building — a cutting-edge facility planned for the northeast corner of campus and aiming to make UW one of the country’s preeminent research institutions.
Board President MacPherson said UW would fight for those funds.
“It certainly sounds like the battle lines have been drawn,” he said.
With the creation of the fiscal year 2018 budget, UW implemented a new financial management system that saw all campus units rebuild their individual budgets from the ground-up and revealed as many as 1,000 reserve accounts scattered across campus.
The board swept a majority of these funds in centralized reserves, eventually establishing a handful of much larger accounts with specific university-wide purposes, such as capital construction, operations and special projects.
“Unfortunately, out of the State Senate comes these talking points — if you will — that, ‘This is found money for the University of Wyoming, it is money that was in some fashion unknown to the university and now available to the university to the tune of $128 million, and isn’t that remarkable?’”
The Joint Appropriations Committee was divided, along House and Senate lines, as to whether this money can be used by the university in place of the $100 million set aside by the Legislature for the Science Initiative, with the goal of freeing up some of that total for other state agencies.
Voting on motions to “raid” those previously appropriated funds, Boswell said the committee’s senators unanimously voted in favor, while the committee’s representatives voted unanimously against.
“It’s likely that the Science Initiative, as we expected, will have tougher sledding in the Senate — and that part of the Senate argument will be some part of the Science Initiative facility should be funded out of university reserves,” Boswell said.
The appropriations committee also took final action on a bill that would affect UW’s 10-year housing plan, he said.
“That bill now goes to the floor for introduction,” Boswell said. “Included in that bill is a provision which calls for — I guess you could say requires — a moratorium on the demolition of residence halls at the University of Wyoming and construction of residence halls at the University of Wyoming for a period of time.”
The Board accepted, but did not approve, the 10-year housing plan during its meeting in January. The plan would revamp residential options on campus, demolishing UW’s two oldest halls, building modern suite-style dorms in their place and renovating the remaining four residence halls.
The plan, which could cost up to $245 million if all of its suggestions are individually approved by the board, is designed to make UW more competitive, increase living options available to students and would be paid, in the long-term, through revenue from room-and-board fees.