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October 26, 1995

Chronology of convocation center funding

1988 — Pennsylvania's General Assembly and governor's office authorized $30 million for a Pitt convocation center. But "authorization" doesn't mean state funds are forthcoming. Each authorized project remains unfunded, often for years, until the Commonwealth releases money specifically for it. Some authorized projects never receive state funding.

October 1992 — University of Pittsburgh officials and then-Gov. Robert P. Casey announced an agreement whereby the state would release $69.1 million for 10 previously authorized projects at Pitt. The University agreed to provide $70.6 million in matching funds. One of the 10 projects was the convocation center. The agreement was part of Casey's $2 billion Operation Jump Start program, aimed at stimulating Pennsylvania's economy and creating new jobs. Pitt and other state-funded universities agreed to participate in Jump Start because the program released at least some state money for their authorized projects.

Dec. 27, 1993 — Officials from Pitt and the Casey administration signed a "delegation agreement" limiting the amount of state funds that can be spent on the convocation center to $13 million. Also under the agreement, Pitt pledged to provide $22 million toward the project. The agreement was based on the University's estimate that the convocation center would cost $35 million. (Pitt and state officials also signed delegation agreements for each of the University's other Jump Start projects.) Summer-Fall 1995 — Pitt's administration announced that the latest projected cost of the convocation center is $52 million. Board of Trustees Chairperson J. Wray Connolly, Interim Chancellor Mark Nordenberg and other Pitt officials met with new Gov. Tom Ridge to plead the University's case for receiving the full $30 million originally authorized for the convocation center. According to Ridge administration officials and Connolly, neither the governor nor any of the University representatives at those meetings was aware of the 1993 agreement.

Oct. 19-25, 1995 — On Oct. 19, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported on the existence of the agreement. At a Pitt Board of Trustees meeting that morning, Connolly said he had been unaware of the deal, as had Interim Chancellor Nordenberg and Connolly's predecessor as chairperson, Farrell Rubenstein. Connolly later told the University Times: "When we were meeting with Gov. Ridge and members of his administration, we knew we were going to have a hard time getting another $17 million from the state [for the convocation center]. What we didn't realize was that representatives of this University, unbeknownst to people in leadership positions on our Board of Trustees, had already signed an agreement whereby we gave up that $17 million, maybe forever." Actually, the 1993 agreement allows for both Pitt and the state to agree to amend, or withdraw from, the agreement. According to a statement issued by Pitt's administration, the original act authorizing $30 million in state money for the convocation center remains in force; the 1993 agreement does not preclude the University from seeking an additional $17 million. However, both Pitt and Gov. Ridge would have to agree to such a deal — and it's unlikely Ridge will agree, governor's office spokespersons said this week. Releasing Pitt from the 1993 convocation center agreement, they said, could set a precedent for other universities seeking similar exemptions. Nonetheless, Pitt officials vowed this week to continue seeking the additional $17 million.

Filed under: Feature,Volume 28 Issue 5

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