Inflation plagues university construction program

ELKO - Skyrocketing construction costs left the university system's planned construction program for the next two years in limbo Friday.

The Board of Regents planned to give at least tentative approval to the more than $300 million building and maintenance program at their Elko meeting. But State Public Works Board Manager Dan O'Brien told the board construction inflation is so high right now that project estimates they reviewed just last month are already outdated.

He said the price of construction steel has increased 65 percent since January and that inflation will continue at 8-10 percent for at least the next year. O'Brien said if the estimates aren't updated, it may not be possible to build the projects after they are approved.

Interim chancellor Jim Rogers told the board rising costs combined with problems in funding the classroom building at Nevada State College in Henderson will force dramatic changes in the proposed construction list.

The board decided after a lengthy discussion to have Rogers work with Public Works to make sure estimated costs of different projects are up to date, talk with lawmakers and Gov. Kenny Guinn's administration and prepare a new priority list for them to look at in about three weeks.

Rogers told the board the cost of just the first seven projects on the list would increase about $20 million. He said that doesn't include his recommended expansion of the proposed Greenspun College of Urban Affairs at UNLV or the $9 million they will have to request from the Legislature to enable construction of the NSC Henderson building.

Altogether, he said the $65.2 million originally estimated for those first seven projects will increase to more than $100 million.

The complete list, if approved by the Legislature, would total more than $329 million.

Rogers' recommendation to ask lawmakers to raise NSC funding drew protests from several members of the board because the 2001 Legislature approved construction of a $23 million building based on promises to lawmakers and regents that private contributions would cover $10 million of that.

Rogers said that simply won't happen - contributions have reached only $1 million in nearly four years.

"The promise for the state college in Henderson wasn't at a cocktail party," said regent Steve Sisolak. "It was at the Board of Regents they promised $50 million. Somebody's feet need to be held to the fire."

Rogers said the other issue is the offer by the Greenspun family to put millions into building an Urban Affairs College if the state agrees to do it this budget cycle. Rogers said they originally offered $12 million if the state would put up $18 million. Now, he said, they will pay $16 million for an even bigger project if the state will put up $24 million - again contingent on approving the project this budget cycle. Rogers said that requires the board to ask lawmakers to approve a project totaling $40 million.

Rogers said funding the Henderson building is critical. Regent Mark Alden said that and the Greenspun building must be top priorities this time. But other members made it clear they have other priorities.

"Safety issues have to be addressed," said regent Howard Rosenberg pointing out many of those projects are relatively small. "Let's not wait for a kid to get hurt."

Regent Linda Howard questioned why some smaller projects such as the Electrical and industrial Technology building at great Basin College keep getting put off. She said that project has been on the list eight years and needs to be funded this time.

Other projects high on the proposed list include Furnishings and equipment needed to open up the Health Science building at CCSN and the Science, Engineering and Technology building at UNLV as well as the Knowledge Center at UNR.

Rogers said he would work with O'Brien to ensure that the amounts for each project are realistic so whatever is finally approved can be built.

Other projects farther down the list include a $70 million Academic Medical Center for UNR, renovation of the Red Mountain building at TMCC and more than $6 million worth of health and safety corrections at WNCC.

Regents did, however, act on an initial list of bill draft requests for the 2005 session. That list is mostly housekeeping but includes a request for legislation that would restore their long-standing policy requiring 12 months residency before some one can attend college at resident rates.

That policy was challenged last year because it conflicts with state law requiring only six months in the state to be considered a resident for all other benefits. University officials were told they could owe several million dollars to students who had lived in the state more than six months but less than a year and were forced to pay out of state tuition rates.

Contact Geoff Dornan at or at 687-8750.


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