Last week, the University of Wyoming Board of Trustees gave administrators a budget of $33.4 million to move forward with a number of construction projects related to the planned re-vamping of the university’s dormitories.
Almost half of that funding is budgeted for the least glamorous project: $14.9 million to relocate utilities on the northeast corner of campus to accommodate the demolition of Wyoming Hall and construction of new dorms on that section of campus.
That price tag was a little daunting for trustees, but they ultimately opted to move forward with all utility relocations after administrators said it would cost more in the long-run to delay any of that work.
Trustees approved for administrators to have Wyoming Hall demolished at a cost no more than $2.7 million.
A budget of $13 million was also approved for the construction, excluding “soft costs,” of a new parking garage on the north side of Grand Avenue, between 10th and 11th streets.
According to the trustees’ directive, the parking garage should have a minimum of 400 parking spots.
The parking garage is planned to compensate for the loss of parking spots along the west side of 15th Street that’s expected to occurred as dorms are built over the coming years.
To plan for that construction, UW also plans to move its fleet services and bus maintenance from its site at the corner of 14th and Lewis streets.
The trustees have approved a budget of $2.8 million for the administration to begin moving its transportation services to a new facility on South 15th Street — the former site of First Choice Honda, which had leased the university property.
To accommodate that move, the trustees approved a $98,980 contract with a Cody firm, Plan One Architects, to design the new bus maintenance and storage facility.
UW plans to move fleet services this fall, which should free up 156 parking stalls to compensate for the loss of parking north of Wyoming Hall, which is slated for demolition this year.
All employees currently working in Wyoming Hall are expected to be moved to the recently renovated Hill Hall by the beginning of February.
Some of the funding that trustees budgeted for last week is ultimately likely to be reimbursed through the issuance of new bonds, which are planned to fund the bulk of the new dorms construction.
Bill Mai, interim vice president for administration, said there’s a “significant chance” that grant funding could reimburse the university’s costs to move its transit services to South 15th Street.
In the meantime, trustees are funding those projects largely through its reserve accounts. Before voting to move forward with the $33.4 million budget, UW had $19.2 million in capital construction reserves, $12.8 million in residence hall reserves and $45 million in general university reserves.
UW architect Matt Newman said that administrators are “90% done with a programming document” that will outline administrators’ expectations for new housing and dining.
However, before trustees approve any more budgets for dorms and dining construction, Trustee John McKinley asked administrators to identify revenue streams that can be used to pay down the university’s bond debt over the next few decades. McKinley chairs the trustees’ budget and facilities contracting committees.
It’s likely that UW will issue more than $100 million in new bond debt, and McKinley expressed skepticism that the students’ room-and-board fees will be sufficient to pay down the principal and interest of the amount of bond debt UW officials have considered incurring.
“I’m not ready to authorize any further expenditures on housing and dining because we don’t have a budget, and the numbers do not appear to be realistic to me at this point in time,” he said.
In 2019, the Legislature passed a law that was aimed at providing a funding mechanism to move the dorms construction forward, including a $88 million loan for the university to defease its current bond debt.
However, UW officials aren’t keen on using that loan based on the current repayment terms enumerated in the law.
Trustee Kermit Brown also noted that the law, H.B. 293, didn’t account for some of the necessary costs, like the demolition of Wyoming Hall and the relocation of utilities.
“When the Legislature did the math, all they calculated was the bonding capacity that they had to give us … but we don’t have the cash flow to service it,” he said.