Legislative Roundup: Business school to ‘move ahead’

By By Ana Breton and By Ana Breton

By Ana Breton

U administrators were hoping to begin construction this summer of a new David Eccles School of Business building complete with 24 general-purpose classrooms, offices and wireless access. But because the Utah State Legislature did not authorize the plan to use state or private funding, the U must now remodel the business school with a smaller, more conservative blueprint and complete it with private funds.

The business school lost the chance to initiate its newer remodeling plans after legislators removed an amendment to a capital facilities bill that would have allowed the U to use private funds to renovate the School of Business.

The renovation, which was listed as one of the U administration’s top priorities, was dropped as an amendment during the last night of the Utah State Legislature’s session on March 5. In a previous interview, U Vice President for Government Relations Kim Wirthlin said Speaker of the House Greg Curtis, R-Sandy, “wanted the amendment out,” although she didn’t know why. Both Wirthlin and Curtis were unavailable for comment.

Earlier in the session, the U asked the Legislature for $28.5 million for the $107.5 million project, but because funding was not approved, the school must now raise its own funds to complete it. Almost all of the remaining $79 million has been raised by private donors.

“It was definitely disappointing, but really I think we’re going to be able to do a great project,” said Jack Brittain, dean of the business school. “This is not a catastrophe.”

Although the staff at the business school is disappointed with the legislators’ decision, they remain optimistic about the overall project, said Raelynn Potts, the director of business affairs for the school.

“We’re still moving ahead even though we didn’t get funding,” Potts said. “We’re disappointed, but it won’t stop the project.”

The $107.5 million project will place one building where the current Francis Armstrong Madsen and Ken Garff buildings stand at the southern end of campus. The new structure will include more classroom and office space and wireless technology.

Potts said that 70 percent of the new structure will be dedicated to student resource areas, including classrooms, study areas and food service areas. A focus group created last year surveyed students about what they were looking for if the school were to be remodeled. Most said they wanted study spaces, wireless access and places to work on group projects.

The school’s renovation has been in the planning stages for the last 10 years. The school was equipped for the 600 students who used it in the 1960s, but now there are more than 3,000 students who occupy the buildings.

“The newer plan will be greatly beneficial to all parties,” Potts said. “We feel that the changes in the building we’ve planned will enhance student experience, and we are fully committed to making it happen.”

The business school remodel will occur in two phases, each costing about $50 million. The Francis Armstrong Madsen Building will be torn down first to make way for the new structure. Brittain said the funding for the first phase has been secured, but the second phase is uncertain and depends on donations. If the school raises the entirety of the funds it needs, it would be able to complete 24 classrooms. For now, the school is planning on building 16 classrooms.

Brittain said one of the things private donors fear is that if they donate a large amount of funding, the Legislature will step back and allow the private donors to do all the work, he said.

“That’s what’s tough for us right now,” Brittain said. “We have to try to assess if we should forget about state funding or go back to the Legislature next year and try to secure it.”

Brittain said the project is in its planning stages, but that construction would begin in September and be completed in July 2010. In the meantime, classes will be shifted to the Marriott Library when it opens during the summer months and to other campus buildings.

The bill, without the business school amendment, passed 23 to 5. The bill also gave the U the go-ahead to spend $90 million to expand the Huntsman Cancer Institute to include another clinical cancer research hospital and $21 million to build a new parking structure on campus and expand the U Neuropsychiatric Institute. However, all of these projects will have to be built with private funds because they will not be funded by the state.

[email protected]