Regents approve 20-month building moratorium

The state Board of Regents will ask for $18 million in new state funding for the fiscal year that begins July 1 -- Iowa State's portion would be $7 million -- and also ask the state to restore the $8 million cut from this year's operating appropriation to the three public universities. Iowa State's portion of the cut was $3.2 million. The universities would use the funds for student financial aid and to support online and hybrid teaching.

The board held a virtual meeting Sept. 23; fiscal year 2022 funding requests are due to the state Oct. 1.

The regents' FY22 state funding request also includes $2.9 million in additional economic development funding for state biosciences initiatives, 75% of which would further support the three platforms from a 2017 economic development report assigned to Iowa State: biobased chemicals, precision and digital agriculture, and vaccines and immunotherapy. The University of Iowa is pursuing a medical devices initiative. Since 2019, the two universities have asked for $1 million per year to develop each of the four ($4 million total); in the current year, total funding is just under $1.1 million.

The board's sole new building request to the state for FY22 is $30 million for deferred maintenance, fire and environmental safety, security and energy conservation projects. It would be shared by the three universities, Iowa School for the Deaf and Iowa Public Radio.

John Nash, director of facilities in the board office, told board members the deferred maintenance list for the regents system currently stands at $1.2 billion. Based on the percentage of state-funded square footage on each campus, he said Iowa State's share of $30 million is $11.4 million. ISU associate vice president for facilities planning and management Paul Fuligni offered a list of 14 priority projects in 11 buildings -- mostly to replace roof sections, windows, air handling units, chilled water lines and domestic water lines -- totaling nearly $12 million.

Zero net square footage

In conjunction with the appropriations request, the board also unanimously approved a restriction on campus building projects funded even partially by the state. The board's internal advisory group, appointed in April to look for efficiencies across the regents system, recommended that a campus' net square footage can't increase due to any new construction that involves state funding.

Regent and advisory group co-chair David Barker said the recommendation addresses two of the board's standing concerns: projections about a declining pool of college students and the impact of growing online enrollment on physical space needs. The pandemic "greatly accelerated these concerns," he said. "Until we have a better idea of where higher education is heading, the advisory group recommends that we not add additional building space at our three universities. No new net square footage."

Unless extended by the board, the moratorium would continue through June 2022. Exceptions are:

  • Projects already approved (including future phases)
  • Projects funded 100% by private gifts
  • Health care facilities

Board president Mike Richards said the advisory group could present other recommendations for efficiency in November, but the board wouldn't take action on them until its February meeting.

Athletics budget

Because the pandemic caused so much uncertainty about sports seasons, in August the board delayed approving university athletics budgets until its September meeting.

Athletics director Jamie Pollard outlined a year that could see operations expenses drop to 85% of a normal year, but revenues drop by half. The athletics department budgeted $2 million this year for COVID-19 testing for student athletes and coaches. Acknowledging that circumstances change almost daily, he told board members his current worst-case scenario is a budget deficit of $35 million for FY21. "Fans in the stands" this fall (football) and winter (basketball, wrestling) would help lower that number. Ticket sales, including premiums paid for club and suite options (about $35 million total) is a critical revenue source; Big 12 Conference and NCAA television revenue when competitions can be held (more than $40 million last year) is the other.

Pollard expressed confidence in two budget considerations:

  • In the short term, the athletics department doesn't have cash flow difficulties.
  • (Treating an FY21 year-end deficit like a bond repayment obligation), the department has options for paying off a deficit over 10 years.

Building projects

The board also approved these Iowa State requests:

  • A 2.3% increase ($1.9 million) to the Student Innovation Center's construction budget for audio-visual equipment in four areas not selected yet in original plans the board approved in December 2016. The areas are the stepatorium, team-based learning classroom, media production suite and the engineering capstone suite. The new budget is $85.9 million. University funds will cover the increase.
  • An overall plan to replace the heating/cooling system in the 49-year-old Hilton Coliseum and bump out glass curtain walls on the south and north sides to widen the concourses for improved concession areas and easier guest movement in the building. There isn't a budget attached to the design, but private gifts and the athletics department's operation funds would pay for the project. Barker noted that approving initial planning this week (which will be covered by private donations) doesn't guarantee that the entire project will be approved. He said the future decision would reflect the pandemic's continuing impact on athletics programs.
  • A 13.2% increase ($2.8 million) to the budget for the feed mill and grain science complex under construction at the Curtiss Farm along State Avenue and U.S. Highway 30. This increase is due to higher-than-expected proposals for designing and building the facility. The new budget is $24 million, $21 million of which is covered by private gifts. University funds will cover the increase.
  • Begin planning for a renovation of all the bathrooms in Friley and Helser residence halls, home to 1,220 and 710 students, respectively. The intent is to reduce energy use and improve accessibility and privacy in the shower and toilet areas, and the work will update plumbing, mechanical, lighting and electrical systems. Residence department improvement funds will cover the estimated $27 million cost.