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The Lupton Library will be repurposed by the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

NASHVILLE — At first blush, things look pretty good when it comes to finding room in next year's state budget for a $48 million project that calls for "reinventing" UTC's old Lupton Library and the Fine Arts Center.

The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's project to outfit the former library for classroom and other space and to renovate parts of the Fine Arts Center is ranked No. 2 on the Tennessee Higher Education Commission's priority funding list.

And the state government is flush with money, with revenue growth far outpacing estimates. There are projections of a $575 million surplus in one-time money that could be spent on state capital projects and the like in the 2016-17 fiscal year.

"It has a great shot," UT system President DiPietro said last week of the UTC project.

He said the University of Chattanooga Foundation has agreed to put in $10 million, reducing the state's portion to $37.9 million.

There's just one potential problem: Everyone in state government is hungrily eyeing that half-billion-dollar-plus surplus and offering ideas about how some — or in one case nearly every dime — of it could best be put to use.

Ideas include using $260 million to repay the state's transportation fund for money snatched from it by an earlier administration and diverted into the general fund, which bankrolls most of the state's operations.

Secretary of State Tre Hargett, meanwhile, is advocating for $90 million to construct a new Library and Archives Building.

State department heads shared their ideas with Haslam last week during his annual public budget hearings.

The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation is asking for $125 million to repair long-neglected facilities at state parks.

Some $55 million would go toward state park inns, golf courses, marinas and the like as the state seeks to outsource some operations to for-profit companies at 11 parks, including Harrison Bay State Park in Hamilton County.

Other agencies had their own notions. Most startling was a proposal from General Services Commissioner Robert Oglesby during his budget presentation.

In a state where existing building maintenance and improvements have traditionally been funded in year-to-year, haphazard fashion — if at all — Oglesby and his team boldly proposed putting everything on an annual funded basis.

That would cost $1.8 billion. But Oglesby is modest. He's only asking for a partial down payment.

Price tag — $528.98 million.

"You're saying fix it all this year?" said an incredulous Greg Adams, the governor's chief operating officer, as he tried to understand Oglesby's presentation.

Asked later how UTC's request might fare in this gargantuan universe of need, desire and surplus, Haslam waxed philosophical about the traditional division between one-time expenditures in, say, a building, and ongoing, year-in, year-out expenses in areas like education.

"[On] the nonrecurring, I think the good news is we have more opportunity than we've historically had due to the budget surplus," the governor said. "The challenging news is there's a whole lot of people who have ideas about how to spend that."

There are "some very real needs," Haslam noted, "some capital projects like the one you've mentioned at UTC that's been waiting in line for a while and is a worthy project. And we have some of those both on the UT system and the Tennessee Board of Regents system."

As put together by THEC, the nine top higher education priorities total some $455 million. THEC's No. 1 project is $10 million. Just behind is UTC's.

Earlier this year, a UTC spokesman said officials were looking at "reinventing" Lupton Library, which has been replaced by a new library, for mixed uses like classrooms and student services.

The modernist-style building, which sits on Vine Street in the heart of the campus, opened in 1974. It is named for Thomas Cartter Lupton and his wife, Margaret Rawlings Lupton. Lupton, the only child of Coca-Cola Bottling Co. founder John Thomas Lupton, was a philanthropist who launched what's now the Lyndhurst Foundation.

While discussing the UTC project, Haslam alluded to Oglesby's proposal and noted that deferred maintenance is a big issue that needs attention.

"That's not fun or exciting for anyone, but we have to start doing that," he said.

"None of that's cheap," the governor added. "Those are all numbers with eight zeroes behind them. So that'll be what we wrestle with over the next three or four weeks — to try to prioritize."

Contact Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com, 615-255-0550 or follow on twitter at @AndySher1.

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