Board analyzes U housing, parking, financing

by Kelly Wittman

Using the state’s credit rating to help fund the building of new dorms, as well as raising parking prices to help fund more tunnels on campus, were topics for Thursday’s meeting of the Board of Regents Facilities Committee.
During a budget year when the University will go to the state and ask it to provide $230 million in funding during the next biennium, a committee discussion of ways to provide housing and food services through partnerships with private companies turned into regents questioning why the state couldn’t back University efforts to build new housing.
In addition, while some students are still grumbling about parking fee increases instituted this summer, the board discussed the possibility that parking on campus is too cheap.
Roger Paschke, associate vice president for the Treasurer’s Office, told regents the University is seeing enormous increases in the money needed to provide programs such as housing and food services to students. These increases are causing serious problems, he said, as administrators are beginning to see academic departments competing for funds with non-academic units.
The University has made it a priority to increase the amount of on-campus housing. Plans are in the works to build new housing at the site currently occupied by the Science Classroom building; the site of the East River Road ramp after it is demolished in 1998; and the currently unoccupied mineral resource center, which is located near the steam plant on the East River Road.
Paschke said the three dormitories that administrators would like to build at a cost of $50 million cannot be financed on the back of the University’s credit rating. The University currently is carrying a debt of about $190 million.
Regent Wendell Anderson asked why the University couldn’t ask the state to pledge full faith and credit behind the bonds the University could sell to raise funds for the new housing. A similar arrangement had been worked out with private colleges in 1971, he said, and had saved the schools a lot of money without costing anything to the state.
Paschke said the state would look at the pledge of credit as University debt, and added that using the state’s credit rating to back the funds would still reflect onto the University’s requests for capital.
Board of Regents Chairman Tom Reagan responded by saying there is no reason Gov. Carlson and the state Legislature cannot find a way to fit in the credit support while not hurting us on our capital request.
Regents Anderson and Julie Bleyhl both said they would rather seek out state agencies to help fund the new dorms than lose control over services a partnership with a private company may cause.
Paschke’s committee on providing services was charged by regents to examine all options — including those involving state help — and report to the board.
In addition, regents were concerned that plans to continue linking buildings on campus through skyways or tunnels might remain unfunded.
The facilities committee decided a few years ago to fund tunnel and skyway projects with surplus revenue from University Parking and Transportation Services, said Paul Tschida, assistant vice president for Safety and Health Management. Because Parking and Transportation Services has had to answer a demand for more parking on campus there is no surplus revenue to continue building the links between buildings, he said.
Anderson asked why the University couldn’t raise parking prices in indoor ramps to pay for the new links. Compared with parking downtown, University parking rates are very reasonable, he said.
The University should also encourage environmentally friendly transit, Anderson said, and low parking prices don’t do that.
Anderson asked facilities officials to find out what was needed to link the campus over the next five years and do it.