The culmination of a year’s work on housing at the University of Wyoming became public Monday as the Legislative Service Office posted House Bill 293, which would lead to construction of new dormitories on campus.
The bill is sponsored by House Speaker Steve Harshman, R-Casper, who co-chairs the legislative task force on UW housing created in 2018.
HB 293 has seven co-sponsors, including Senate President Drew Perkins, R-Casper.
Harshman referred the bill on Tuesday to the House Appropriations Committee for review. That committee is chaired by Rep. Bob Nicholas, R-Cheyenne, who also sat on the housing task force during the interim.
Under HB 293, the new dorms would need to house about 2,000, with each building housing 300-600 students. None of the new buildings would be allowed to be taller than six stories.
The area for new dorms would include the two parking lots north of College of Business, Wyoming Hall and the parking lots to its immediate north, the two blocks north of Lewis Street and between 13th and 15th avenues, and the block on the northwest side of 15th and Grand avenues.
That final block was included as a possible dorm location in an October document from UW, but university leaders indicated at the time that Cooper Carriage House and Cooper House would not be demolished.
Wyoming Hall is expected to be demolished to make way for new housing.
The dorm locations mandated by the current bill draft are well-aligned with locations proposed by UW and would eliminate hundreds of parking spots.
However, HB 293 would require the dorm project to result in a net increase of parking spaces.
During the task force meetings in 2018, committee-members discussed the possibility of a large parking garage on the present site of the University Police building.
HB 293 states that “parking garages, campus security and utility stations shall be located north of Lewis Street and south of Flint Street as determined by the trustees” and “additional parking garages included in the project may be located on the south side of campus as determined by the trustees.”
The bill would require a new dining facility, with additional dining in the dorms.
The bill also calls for a “renovated Wyoming Union extending east of that building” with a common space east of the Union that “accentuates the history, climate and outdoor nature of Wyoming.”
The bill envisions that UW will bond to raise the necessary capital after the defeasance of its current bond debt. As of May, UW had $87 million in outstanding debt. Unless that debt is cancelled, the dorms project would exceed UW’s bonding capacity.
Under HB 293, funding for the projects would start with the creation of a new account controlled by state Treasurer Curt Meier.
Initial funding would come from a $88 million appropriation from the Legislature’s rainy-day fund, formally known as the Legislative Stabilization Reserve Account.
Beginning this year, $8 million would be distributed from Wyoming’s federal mineral royalties to the housing account every year for the next 30 years.
The bill would then require UW to reduced its standard budget request for 2021-2022 by $8 million.
The bill would also renew the State Loan and Investment Board’s bond supplemental coverage program to improve UW’s bond rating.
“There’s things we can do to help get (UW) a better bonding rate, secure those bonds and guarantee them. We’re working on that process, and even a line of credit through our savings to help them in this intermittent period,” Harshman said on Wyoming PBS’s Capitol Outlook last week.
UW would be required to pay back that appropriation to the LSRA over a 20-year period at an interest rate no higher than 4.5 percent.
HB 293 would also allocate $3.5 million for the state to give to the city of Laramie for grant funding to “improve traffic efficiency on Ninth Street between Ivinson Avenue and Flint Street and 22nd Street between Grand Avenue and Willett Drive to mitigate any potential impacts created by the restricted access to 15th Street from Ivinson Avenue to Lewis Street necessitated by the construction and implementation of the University of Wyoming student housing project.”
Task force revisions
The UW housing task force last year included four legislators, an employee in the governor’s office, an appointee of the state treasurer, two trustees, an appointee of UW President Laurie Nichols, a housing contractor in Laramie and a representative from the UW Foundation.
HB 293 would continue the task force’s work into future years while downsizing the membership by three positions.
The current language would eliminate the seats held in 2018 by State Chief Investment Officer Patrick Fleming, former governor Matt Mead’s chief policy advisor Mary Kay Hill, real estate manager J.T. Walsh and UW Foundation member Clayton Hartman.
The new task force would allow Nichols to appoint a second member.
HB 293 provides that, starting in March, the task force would serve and advisory role to oversee construction of the new dorms and demolition of the existing dorms between 15th and 19th streets.