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March 22, 2012

State money available for new UPJ Murtha Center project

The clock is ticking on $10 million in state funding for the John P. Murtha Center for Public Service on the Pitt-Johnstown campus.

The proposed building would be located along Kunk’s Drive near Krebs Hall and the Pasquerilla Performing Arts Center, according to the funding application. It would include classrooms, meeting spaces, museum and archival space, administrative offices, a memorial garden and parking.

The Murtha family selected Pitt-Johnstown as the repository for the papers and memorabilia of the late Rep. Murtha, who was a UPJ alumnus. Murtha (D-12) served the district, which includes Johnstown, from 1974 until his death in 2010.

A grant agreement between the state and Richland Township, in which the UPJ campus is situated, was completed March 2, 2012.

Spokesperson Susan Hooper of the state Office of the Budget said now that the grant agreement has been executed, the grantee has six months to begin the project.

The University’s project contact was not made available to the University Times for an interview. In response to the University Times’s request, John Fedele, associate director of News, said: “There is no timetable for the project right now.”

UPJ spokesperson Robert W. Knipple told the University Times he had no additional details on the project.

The Murtha grant was one of nearly 750 Redevelopment Assistance Capital Project (RACP) grants approved but which did not have signed agreements when Gov. Edward G. Rendell left office.

Gov. Tom Corbett reluctantly approved $10 million in funding for the project (referred to as the John P. Murtha Center for Public Policy in the grant documents) in February. As a gubernatorial candidate, Corbett had urged Rendell not to raise the debt ceiling to fund such projects, but once in office, Corbett’s administration determined they had no legal choice but to begin re-releasing money for projects that met the requirements for funding. To date, more than $1.06 billion for 507 RACP projects has been re-released.

The RACP program provides state matching funds for economic development and infrastructure projects. Hooper said RACP grants must be matched by non-state funds, adding that the grant money is paid as a reimbursement as work on the projects progress.

Richland Township supervisor Bob Heffelfinger said the program requires a municipal entity to manage the funds associated with an RACP-funded project. Although the township is the applicant for the RACP grant, “We get nothing,” he said, noting that the municipality isn’t playing an active role in the project management. Rather the township would serve as a funnel through which the state money would pass: When eligible project expenses are presented, the township writes the check for the reimbursement from the RACP funds, he said.

In 2010 the Murtha family established the John P. Murtha Foundation to raise funds for the UPJ center. The Maryland-based foundation had net assets of $624,045 at the end of 2010, according to its tax form 990. Foundation representatives did not respond to calls or emails from the University Times seeking comment on the project.

According to the RACP application, $14.53 million in matching funding for the Murtha center would be made up of $5.9 million from the UPJ construction fund, the $2 million value of campus land and a $6.63 million Department of Defense grant (listed on the application as unsecured), in addition to $4 million in state Department of General Services Public Improvement Project funding.

The $18.63 million center would be part of a larger expansion on the UPJ campus “which will further educational, life sciences and cultural opportunities for the area,” the RACP application stated.

In addition to the $18.63 million for the Murtha center, the application included a $9.9 million project for construction and infrastructure improvements for UPJ’s nursing program, for a total project budget of $28.53 million.

The $9.9 million UPJ nursing/health sciences facility project was included in the University’s FY10 capital budget, subject to the future approval of Pitt’s property and facilities committee. The capital budget cited as funding sources $3.285 million in auxiliary debt, $4 million in commonwealth funding and nearly $2.62 million in gifts/other funding.

The nursing project remains in the design and evaluation phase with no timetable for construction established, said Fedele.

The 20,000 square-foot facility, to be built next to the Engineering and Science Building, would house a nursing simulation lab, four technology-equipped science classrooms, UPJ’s allied health programs and an auditorium-style lecture hall. In addition, the facility would include faculty office spaces and auxiliary, biology and chemistry lab spaces to handle overflow and the needs of additional nursing students.

—Kimberly K. Barlow

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