Cuts won’t halt USTAR plans

By Lana Groves, Asst. News Editor

Construction on a new science and technology building on campus should continue as planned this year.

Rep. Ron Bigelow, R-West Valley City and chairman of the executive appropriations committee, said last week that construction plans for the U’s first building for the Utah Science Technology and Research Initiative would have to be postponed a year or two to compensate for budget cuts during the 2009 fiscal year.

However, legislators said Wednesday they didn’t think construction would be delayed.

“We don’t perceive there will be budget cuts against the USTAR building,” said Ted McAleer, executive director of USTAR. “But we realize there’s a lot of planning by a lot of different people that could change that.”

McAleer said the Utah Legislature will use bonds instead of cash out of the $50 million general fund to pay for the first of four buildings on the northwestern side of the U’s golf course.

When completed, the building will house researchers hired as part of the USTAR initiative that the Legislature organized three years ago to stimulate the economy through new businesses and research at the U and Utah State University.

At a higher education appropriations committee meeting Wednesday afternoon, McAleer said USTAR is ahead on projections for hiring and start-up companies, but might have to cut back on research centers located throughout the state to make up for budget cuts.

Besides faculty who have been recruited throughout the United States, USTAR also manages a technology outreach program and various research centers in Utah.

“We had a very generous budget when we started out,” McAleer said. Having to make do with less, USTAR might drop to four research centers instead of the five located at Dixie State College, Salt Lake Community College, Utah State University, College of Eastern Utah and the U.

“We’ve got a good thing going here and need to support it,” said Rep. Brent Wallis, R-Ogden. “We have no hesitation in wanting it to continue. We just have to get through this rocky period of time.”

Kim Wirthlin, U vice president of government relations, said the Legislature is waiting to figure out budget estimates for 2010 to find out if any more cuts will be issued.

“We’re urging legislators to use every means possible to minimize the cuts,” Wirthlin said. “At this point, everyone is waiting to see the February projections.”

Rep. Bradley Daw, R-Orem, said he hopes the Legislature won’t have to cut too much more from the USTAR budget, but anything could happen within the next 35 days.

He said lawmakers don’t want to cut back on a program that was intended as an economic stimulus, but there are other important priorities for the Legislature to consider.

“There are certain programs people really depend on,” Daw said. “The police force is not considered an economic stimulus, but you can’t say we don’t need the police force for a year. There’s a lot of competing forces here.”

Building plans are still underway, but McAleer said they have already finished the schematic design of the building.

The U has already begun construction to lay out electrical and water pipes to make ready for expected groundbreaking on April 28.

USTAR is also working on design plans for a building at Utah State University, which already has one building in Logan that USU donated to USTAR for the researchers.

Since its inception, USTAR has been steadily bringing in top-of-the-line faculty to Utah to provide technology for new businesses.

About 20 researchers have been hired between the U and Utah State, and McAleer said USTAR is negotiating with 30 possible hires right now.

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While legislators initially said construction of the first USTAR building would be postponed, it appears that construction plans will move forward with legislators using bonds from the $50 million general fund to pay for the building.