A state-ordered review of construction funding at Florida universities has uncovered a multimillion-dollar funding snag at the University of South Florida that officials there are not fully explaining.
The mix-up involves the $21.7 million Dr. Kiran C. Patel Center for Global Solutions, a research facility completed in 2010 on the USF Tampa campus. The review found that USF spent $6.4 million in unauthorized funds to complete the center, a problem the university blamed on a donor who failed to come through with promised contributions for the building.
Was that donor Patel, the prominent Tampa doctor and philanthropist whose name is on the center? The university is not saying, and Patel insists he gave exactly what he had pledged.
Now, USF leaders are making plans for a formal internal review of what happened, spokesman Adam Freeman said, although he would not divulge the timing or scope of the exercise. The university’s Board of Trustees is still working out details, he said.
Patel is the only publicly known donor to the center. He and his wife, Pallavi Patel, also have given millions to USF for other projects, including a charter school and a pediatric clinic.
The Patel Center is home to USF’s Patel College of Global Sustainability. In 2012, the couple committed an additional $12 million to boost the program’s enrollment, faculty and research.
The Sarasota Herald-Tribune reported in 2005 that Patel originally pledged $18.5 million to build the center, and that it would be combined with $16 million from the state. But when reached by phone last week, Patel said he committed only $5 million to construction, and submitted the amount in full years ago.
"My commitment to the building was 100 percent met," Patel said. "One-hundred percent of that money was paid."
The issue surfaced recently after the State University System's Board of Governors ordered all Florida universities to review their construction funding, USF's chief financial officer David Lechner said in a Nov. 2 letter to system chancellor Marshall Criser. When promised donations didn't pan out, USF wrongly used carryforward funds, or excess money leftover at the end of a budget period, to fund the center, he said.
"The primary reason for the funding change appears to be that after the building was underway, significant, pledged private funds failed to materialize notwithstanding a signed and binding pledge for same," Lechner wrote. "Those funds are still outstanding since the signed pledge has yet to be honored."
Freeman declined to say whether it was Patel who pulled funding for the center, arguing that donations are not a matter of public record. He also declined to offer details on how the building was paid for. But the mistake has been corrected, according to Lechner's letter.
"If we start to throw out a theory, that hurts the integrity of the review," Freeman said, adding that the review will "address the funding sources used for the Patel project."
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