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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Board of Governors to request $144 million in PECO projects



From The Gradebook: Discussions about Public Educational Capital Outlay, or PECO, funds and legislative budget requests kicked things off at the Board of Governors two-day meeting, with charts and graphs and slideshows all saying the same thing: Don't let up on the belt-tightening.

For the 2012-2013 fiscal year, the board will request from the legislature more than $144 million in PECO dollars, which can only be used for construction of educational-use buildings. A big chunk of that, about $22 million, is set aside for maintenance, repairs or renovations.

Last legislative session, the state university system got $56 million in PECO funds, with $13 million set aside for maintenance, $8 million for utility infrastructure and $35 million for a new campus for USF Polytechnic, in Lakeland. It was the only new university building project not vetoed by Florida Gov. Rick Scott.

It's critical to make repairs and renovations a priority, said Dr. Ken Jessell, chief financial officer at Florida International University, where the meeting was held, particularly considering the ongoing trend of shrinking state support. Jessell likened the issue to the upkeep of a house -- fixing leaky gutters may not be glamorous, but it's important.

"We can get by for a little while, but not for long," Jessell said of the state of universities' existing facilities.

The board agreed. State university system Chancellor Frank Brogan compared the situation to "triage."

"You take the bleeders first," Brogan said. "While I love new buildings... the issue of repairs and maintenance, in a triage, that's our bleeder."

Then there was this interesting observation from board member John Temple: "I wish we would have known it would be this bad when we approved all that money for USF Polytechnic," he said. "We've got to finish what we started."

USF Poly is a hot topic these days -- several dozen Polk County business and civic leaders (including J.D. Alexander, the powerful state senate budget chairman who championed the $35 million appropriation) have called for its separation from the USF system. That's the subject of another BOG presentation, happening tomorrow.

-- Kim Wilmath


[Last modified: Wednesday, September 14, 2011 5:24pm]


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