At the Capitol: Legislature funds new museum, stiffs business school

A committee of Utah lawmakers voted Thursday to give the U most of the state money it needs to build a new Utah Museum of Natural History.

But legislators weren’t as generous in their support of the U’s top building priority — remodeling the David Eccles School of Business.

Under a list of state building projects prioritized by the committee, the museum will receive $25 million to help fund the construction of a new facility on the foothills above Research Park.

The committee only authorized $10.5 million of the $28.5 million requested by the U to help expand and remodel the School of Business. The $107.5 million project would replace the Francis Armstrong Madsen and Ken Garff buildings with new, technologically-improved buildings with more classroom and office space. Private donors have already donated $79 million toward the project.

The decision isn’t final, however. Sen. Kevin Garn, R-Layton, said although the Legislature has only set aside $150 million for state building projects, that number could increase to $200 million or more. The Legislature’s building priorities could change before the Senate and House of Representatives vote on a final budget.

The U is hoping that more money will be put toward government building projects.

Kim Wirthlin, the U’s vice president for government relations, said if $220 million is spent on building projects, that would cover the business school.

“It’s not over until it’s over,” she said.

Wirthlin said if the Legislature doesn’t fund more of the business school project, the U will have to raise the money from private donors or ask for funding again next year.

The natural history museum was the fourth- highest building priority legislators outlined during the meeting. The business school was number 11.

Gordon Snow, R-Roosevelt, asked the committee to move the museum up near the top of its priority list. He said the museum houses artifacts from his area and “is one item…that addresses the needs of the entire state.”

The U originally asked for $30 million to help build the museum, which is estimated to cost $98 million. The museum has raised $41 million from private donors and the federal government.

Museum administrators had originally estimated that the new building would cost about $70 million.

Sarah George, executive director of the museum, said the building’s cost has increased because the museum had originally planned on raising money for exhibits and landscaping separately. She said soaring construction costs have also added to the building’s price tag.

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