Tight funding crimps Dalton State building plans

Tight funding crimps Dalton State building plans

May 9th, 2011 by Perla Trevizo in News

This rendering shows a 62,000-square-foot academic building planned for Dalton State College. Contributed photo


• Fall 2010: 5,988

• Fall 2009: 5,722

• Fall 2008: 4,957

• Fall 2007: 4,532

• Fall 2006: 4,349

Source: Dalton State College


The University System of Georgia has 14 proposed construction projects in the fiscal year that begins July 1. If Gov. Nathan Deal signs the proposed budget, five projects would be fully funded, six would get partial funding and three wouldn't receive any funding. Among the projects:

Dalton State academic building

• FY2012 request: $16.15 million

• Governor's recommendation: $0

• Conference committee recommendation: $8.07 million

Valdosta State health science building

• FY2012 request: $32 million

• Governor's recommendation: $5 million

• Conference committee recommendation: $7.8 million

Kennesaw State education facility

• FY2012 request: $18 million

• Governor's recommendation: $0

• Conference committee recommendation: $18 million.

Source: University System of Georgia Board of Regents

Dalton State College got some good news. Well, kind of.

Document: Capital Outlay - Fiscal Year 2012

After about six years, the Georgia General Assembly approved funding to construct a new academic building for the school, but only half the $16 million school officials requested.

"We have spent the last week working with the architects on designing half the building but in such a way that, once we get the other half of the money, we can build the other half," Dalton State College President John Schwenn said.

He anticipates getting the rest of the money next year.

Once Gov. Nathan Deal signs the 2012 budget, Schwenn said, the school will begin construction.

Dalton State isn't the only Georgia college that took a hit to its projects budget.

Of 13 construction projects requested by the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia, only five will get full funding. Six will get partial funding and two won't receive any money, system officials said.

With falling revenues and budget deficits, there's a growing backlog of unfunded college and university building projects, said Alan Travis, planning director for the Board of Regents.

The 2012 budget is the fourth year of a six-year, $1.7 billion Capital Implementation Program to fund 104 new construction, "significant" renovation and infrastructure projects. With two years left, only $727 million has been appropriated, Travis said.

In the first two years, the board received more than 96 percent of the funding requested for the program, he said. But in fiscal 2011, the board asked for $275.6 million and received only $105 million, about 38 percent.

Following former Gov. Sonny Perdue's budget instructions, Travis said, the board sought $200 million for 2012, 69 percent of the original target. The budget before Deal includes 69 percent of that request, or 44 percent of the original target funding, Travis said.

"In the 10 years previous [to 2009], the state's revenues had gone up on average 6 percent per year, including the recession back in 2000-2001," Travis said. "At this point, revenues have dropped so much that it may be FY15 or FY16 until we can get back to the previous peak we had years ago."

From a high of almost $18.8 billion in fiscal 2007, general fund revenues in Georgia shrank almost 20 percent to $15.2 billion in 2010, according to the governor's office.

A good start

Schwenn and area lawmakers are grateful for what Dalton State did get.

"I obviously wish we could have gotten it funded and we could have the whole building, but we are very appreciative to have gotten half the funding so we can at least begin and try to meet our students' needs," he said.

Building projects may not be seen as top priorities in a down economy, said Sen. Charlie Bethel, R-Dalton. But the economy also means people are staying in school longer or returning for retraining, Bethel said.

"So even though the economic times are difficult, the demand for the services [is] higher, so you've got to meet the demand at a minimum," he said.

Georgia's long-term goal is to raise educational attainment across the board through strategic investments, he said, "but we need to be smart and intelligent about doing that."

State Rep. Barbara Massey Reece, D-Menlo, said she is pleased that Dalton State's academic building made it into the budget.

"It has been hard to get anything," she said. "You certainly have to show the need and justify anything like that."

Schwenn said the student population has grown significantly but the most recently constructed academic building was built in 1999.

"So we have very crowded spaces but also a big lack of science labs like chemistry [and] biology," Schwenn said.

Original plans for the academic building called for a 62,000-square-foot space for classrooms and laboratories.

The revised request for the two-phase construction is for a 63,000-square-foot building with a budget of $21.875 million - for design, construction and equipment - up from the $19.9 million initially calculated.

Dalton State spokeswoman Pam Partain said at least one classroom or lab and some common areas will be functional by January 2013. Construction of the second phase begins after that, and school officials anticipate occupancy in January 2014, she said.