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October 27, 1994

Trustees approve capital budget despite some disagreement about Mag

The Board of Trustees voted to approve a $154.9 million Pitt capital budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1, 1995.

The budget includes 74 new and ongoing construction and renovation projects to be completed over the next several years.

No trustees opposed the capital budget in the voice vote taken at the board's Oct. 21 meeting, despite some criticism of one of the items in the budget: $8 million for Pitt to join the Magellan telescope project in partnership with the Carnegie Institution of Washington, D.C., and the University of Arizona. Construction of a 6.5-meter telescope on an Andes Mountain peak in Chile is expected to be completed in 1997.

Supporters of Pitt's participation in the Magellan project, including Chancellor J. Dennis O'Connor, say it will make Pitt a world leader in cosmology by giving astronomers here access to a telescope that is likely to be one of the world's best for the next half-century. Critics say the $8 million would be better spent for more down-to-earth purposes such as upgrading classrooms and laboratories.

The trustees stipulated that $5 million of Pitt's share of the Magellan project must come from private gifts earmarked by donors for the project, with the remaining $3 million coming from the Chancellor's Discretionary Fund as the University's down payment on the project this year.

If private gifts don't cover the full $5 million, "the shortfall shall be borrowed from plant funds," the board resolution stated. "The resulting debt service from the borrowing shall be repaid through gifts earmarked specifically for the Magellan telescope. To the extent that gifts are insufficient to cover the debt service, the shortfall shall be paid from the Chancellor's Discretionary Fund." Despite the payment plan, trustee D. Michael Fisher, a Republican state senator from Upper St. Clair, said the Magellan project "may not be the best use" of Pitt funds. He recommended deleting the project from the capital budget until the trustees have had more time to evaluate it. "I understand that you put conditions on it, [but] I guess I'm a little concerned," Fisher said.

Trustee James Flaherty suggested that Pitt fund raising may suffer if donors are left wondering whether their contributions will end up in Oakland or in Chile. But Paul Lego, chairperson of the trustees' property and facilities committee, noted that only money donated specifically to the Magellan project will go toward it.

O'Connor said Magellan "represents a once-in-a-lifetime possibility for this University to stay in the forefront of what will become the science of the next millenium — cosmology. We were invited to join this project over many other institutions based on the strength of our astronomy department." The chancellor pointed out that Pitt spends hundreds of thousands of dollars annually to create and renovate labs for new professors in departments such as chemistry and cell biology. If the University is lucky, he said, each of those professors will work here for 20 years or so. "If we hire 10 new faculty members in those disciplines, we're spending $2 million a year or more to establish their labs for a very limited lifetime," he said. By comparison, the University's $8 million investment in the Magellan project will keep paying dividends for the next 50 years in the form of precious access to a state-of-the-art telescope, according to O'Connor.

Pitt's capital budget does not identify funding sources for any projects except the Magellan telescope and $6.2 million in computing projects to be funded by student computing fees.

Of the 72 remaining projects, some (such as lab and classroom upgrades) are to be funded entirely by the University. Others (renovations to Pitt Stadium, for example) are to be covered entirely by private gifts.

Still other projects have more than one funding source. For example, the Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic Children and Youth Center will be funded by a combination of University money and state matching funds.

About half of the $154.9 million capital budget is made up of new projects. The remaining half will go for ongoing projects.

Under a rule that the trustees approved in June, the board's property and facilities committee must approve new construction projects in excess of $1 million before the full board votes on them. For the fiscal year 1995 capital budget, projects approved by the committee included the Magellan telescope and: * $18 million for Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic's Children and Youth Center.

* $5.6 million for a new science center at the Titusville campus.

* $2.9 million for a new dorm at the Greensburg campus.

* $2 million to renovate the Bradford campus's Fisher Hall.

* $2 million for Scaife Hall cell biology and physiology activities.

* $1.1 million for interior building improvements at Western Psych.

* $1.08 million for the Bioscience Tower neurobiology shell space.

New, non-construction projects scheduled to be completed in FY 1995 include: $10.4 million to preserve existing facilities; $6.2 million for computing projects funded by student computer fees; $3 million for preservation projects at Western Psych, and $1 million for classroom renovations.

Among the major ongoing projects, previously approved by the trustees, are: * $24 million for a medical research facility.

* $13.2 to buy the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences building.

* $7.1 million for the first two phases of Pitt Stadium renovations.

* $6.8 million for a new library/administration building at the Greensburg campus.

— Bruce Steele

Filed under: Feature,Volume 27 Issue 5

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