UNLV science and technology building gets a chance for funding

Lobbying by the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, paid off -- at least in part -- as the Public Works Board agreed Thursday to raise the priority of the proposed $75 million Science, Engineering and Technology building.

A total of 53 maintenance projects on the board's list will cost the state $16.38 million. About 20 of those projects involve state facilities in Carson City.

The construction priorities include seven Carson City projects -- the largest of which is a new $8.4 million state Emergency Management Operations Center at the National Guard Armory. That building will total 29,000 square feet.

Also in the capital are rehabilitation of the state forestry division's western regional headquarters for $643,709, remodeling of Building 17 on Stewart Street for $2.7 million and construction of a new entrance and Americans with Disabilities Act access at the state museum for $512,369.

The UNLV project was downgraded from the top priority list for state capital projects at the board's last meeting. Board chairman Sean Carnahan and members including budget director Perry Comeaux argued the design isn't ready and moving it to the 2005-06 budget would delay construction only about six months.

They said the pricey project would consume more than $35 million of the $90 million state bond dollars available for construction projects for the coming two years.

Board member Rene Ashleman led UNLV's push for the project. He said many other projects have been approved without final designs in hand. He said the board should respect that the project is the university system's top priority and fund it. He said delaying funding could jeopardize private fund raising that must pay $25 million of the cost and that UNLV officials believe they will be ready to go before the end of the current budget.

"None of that does anything to mitigate the fact that they are not ready," said Comeaux. "They are prepared to pound a round peg into a square hole to get the funding now."

"It's their square peg and their round hole," said Ashleman.

But Carnahan disagreed, pointing out the money belongs to the people of Nevada, not the university. He said waiting six months extra "is not too high a price to pay for good planning."

Board member John Breternitz, a contractor, said he doesn't finalize a project when the design isn't complete.

Ashleman and members Jess Paulk and Bob Weber then argued for partial funding, but were told by board manager Dan O'Brien it's not possible to issue a contract to build part of a building. They argued the project should at least be on the second list of priorities.

Comeaux reluctantly supported the move, saying the board otherwise would be split 3-3 and, as budget director, he must present a list to Gov. Kenny Guinn soon.

Carnahan said the top priorities on the list are for maintaining existing state buildings and fixing "health and life safety" problems, including disabled access at older state buildings.

A top project on the construction list is a $32.2 million psychiatric hospital in Las Vegas. Agency officials testified the facility is desperately needed. It would start with 150 beds but could be expanded to nearly 200.

Other projects include expansion of the state's central computer center, microwave renovations on area mountaintops and a new prison industry building at Warm Springs Correctional Center.


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