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NASHVILLE -- Gov. Bill Haslam is exploring privatizing building management, operations and services at Tennessee's colleges and universities as the administration looks to expand a controversial contract struck two years ago on many state office buildings with real estate giant Jones Lang LaSalle.

Without fanfare, administration officials on Aug. 11 placed a Request for Information for "facilities management outsourcing" on its website for companies that might be interested in the business. It could generate millions of dollars in profit for the eventual winner.

The proposal would include building services and management for state prisons, hospitals, state parks and National Guard armories in areas ranging from janitor to food services and from security to mowing lawns in addition to higher education, according to the RFI.

Companies have until Friday — giving them just 10 days to respond.

The move already is getting hammered by the United Campus Workers, a higher education union that has members at some state colleges and universities.

"While Haslam states his intention is to improve efficiency in management and 'realize savings,' questions about outsourcing's efficacy and where those savings would come from, and memories of the JLL profitmaking fiasco cast serious doubts over the plan," the group said in a news release.

But David Roberson, a spokesman for the Tennessee Department of General Services, said "this is just an RFI; there's been no actual proposal to do any work requiring State Building Commission approval.

"We're only in the information-gathering process," Roberson emphasized and added the administration will see what vendors have to say and then "we would determine whether we would want to go forward with a Request for Proposal, and what the scope of that RFP might be."

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Republican Gov. Bill Haslam

Thomas Walker, a spokesman for United Campus Workers, said UT employees were told last week the administration had set an ambitious timeline for the outsourcing project with the winning company to sign a contract in June 2016 and take over operations by July 1.

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Citing his mantra of effective and efficient government, Haslam in 2013 moved to outsource building management and operations, saying it would save money.

As the billionaire businessman first ran for governor in 2010, he held a financial interest in Jones Lang LaSalle, the publicly traded company that eventually won the initial assessment contract and later the management contract. Haslam sold his interest prior to taking office.

His assets are now in a blind trust and the governor's office said in 2013 he doesn't know what his investments are outside the family's Pilot Flying J Travel Centers empire.

The RFI posted on the state's website says it would cover almost all facilities management operations including "building operations including but not limited to management services, security, cleaning, repair, maintenance, administrative, roads, grounds, utilities services, preventive maintenance, subcontractor management for services not self-performed, facilities-related purchasing, safety and emergency preparedness and disaster recovery plans and support, energy management, utilities analysis and financial and accounting related to building operations."

It says "potential future components" could include food service operations, special events setup and coordination, master planning, move management, project management, occupancy planning, shipping and receiving, dock management, and administrative site services such as conference room scheduling and setups.

The campus workers group said Jones Lang LaSalle's original consulting contract with the state ballooned from $1 million to $10.7 million through a series of contract amendments approved by the State Building Commission.

Jones Lang LaSalle's recommendations included shuttering six state office buildings, including two in Chattanooga. All were closed and agencies move to leased space.

Over the course of the current five-year contract, Jones Lang LaSalle is projected to make $38 million. In addition, the company charged a fee of up to 4 percent on any leases it negotiated.

But administration officials said the move would save taxpayers $55 million in five years and upwards of $200 million over ten years.

The all-Republican State Building Commission decided to back away from Haslam's initial plans to include higher education and all state buildings back in 2013.

Spokespersons for House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, and Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, both members of the State Building Commission, said Monday the latest expansion proposal has not come before State Building Commission although a Ramsey spokesman said the speaker had been briefed on the concept.

Contact Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550.

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