VSC seeks more state funds, expects little

MONTPELIER — The Vermont State Colleges system is looking for $4 million in state funding for capital projects, a fraction of the $62 million in deferred maintenance across the college system.

Thursday afternoon, the VSC Finance and Facilities Committee adopted a resolution to ask the Legislature for the money to make a host of repairs across the five colleges, but the panel expressed skepticism the system will receive anywhere near the amount being requested.logo

“We do this, knowingly,” said committee Chairman Churchill Hindes. “We don’t have starry eyes and unrealistic expectations.”

Hindes and others are skeptical because, for a number of years now, VSC trustees have requested $4 million from the Legislature and each time received $1.4 million.

With that track record in mind, college officials say the alternative is to assess fees on students to pay for the most necessary projects.

The Vermont State Colleges system includes more than 100 buildings spread across 1,400 acres, with an insurable value of approximately $500 million. It operates Castleton University, Johnson State College, Lyndon State College, Vermont Technical College in Randolph Center and Community College of Vermont.

VSC Chancellor Jeb Spaulding recalled that, back in the 1990s when state lawmakers were more comfortable borrowing through the bonding process, the state college system would receive between $6 million and $8 million annually for capital improvements.

Spaulding noted that, because the coming legislative session will be the second year of a two-year budget cycle, the odds of receiving $4 million will be slim.

“It would be unlikely they will even come close to $4 million,” Spaulding said.
Hindes suggested the trustees frame their request in the context of the $62 million in deferred maintenance the college system is facing.

“It would be unrealistic to pretend that $1.4 million will take care of everything,” Hindes said. “In Vermont, $1.4 million sounds like a lot of money, but in every ski town there is someone putting up a home for $1.4 million that three people will live in for a few months a year.”

VSC trustee and committee member M. Jerome Diamond noted that even if the college system were to receive the full $4 million requested, the money would only scratch the surface of the work that needs to be done.

“It’s obvious that $4 million is a drop in the bucket compared with what the real needs of the system are,” Diamond said.

For example, Castleton University alone is looking at nearly $7 million in deferred maintenance, including $1 million worth of paving and sidewalk projects. Lyndon State is facing $9.4 million worth of deferred projects, such as $750,000 for the replacement of the underground electrical system.

Realizing the money is unlikely to come from the Legislature, college officials are proposing $1 million in capital projects, to be paid for by the students themselves in the form of fees. Officials didn’t make clear Thursday how the fees would be calculated or in what amount.

The $1 million proposal includes $250,000 to install automatic sprinkler systems in the Adams and Haskell residence halls at Castleton University and $225,000 for electrical upgrades at Johnson State.

Tom Robbins, chief financial officer for the VSC system, noted that placing the cost of capital projects on the backs of students makes the colleges less financially competitive versus those in nearby states that offer more support to their state college systems.

josh.ogorman @rutlandherald.com

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