Board discusses Student Activities Center, Morrison Commons renovation, budget deficit
Just two months into the academic year and the Board of Trustees and administration is already mulling over three major projects: an outdoor track, the Student Activities Center and the Morrison Commons renovation. But the buget has a voice at the table, too.
The Augustana University Board of Trustees held its first general meetings of this academic year on Sept. 29, 30. The board, division chairs and administration leaders discussed multiple proposals that, if they materialize, are bound to significantly shape campus for years to come.
During the meetings, Tom Davis, chair of the Board of Trustees, said the board addressed the university’s financial budget. Based on current budget projections, Davis said it is likely that the university will run a budget deficit again this year.
Last year, Augustana ran a deficit of around $1 million, Vice President for Finance Tom Meyer said. To pay for the deficit, the university took out loans, Davis said.
“You certainly don’t want to put yourself on the path of borrow, borrow, borrow,” Davis said. “But I thought it was a well-thought-out plan.”
Dean of Students Jim Bies said the loans allowed the university to invest in graduate and undergraduate programs, specifically the genetics counseling major and the master’s education program.
“In order to develop those programs, we needed to make some major and significant steps to spend money,” Bies said.
In total, excluding this year’s projected budget, the university holds around $28 million in debt. But it incurred most of the debt from building projects, Meyer said.
The university borrowed $18 million to build the Froiland Science Complex. Over time, donor pledges will repay the loans, but the university will have to cover the interest costs.
“For instance, we borrowed money for building the Froiland Science Complex,” Meyer said. “That’s pretty typical for a university to have that.”
In context, Meyer said although Augustana holds a substantial debt, it also owns $80 million worth in land, buildings, machinery, office equipment, vehicles and furniture.
Right now there are no exact figures on this year’s deficit, Bies said. The budgets are enrollment driven, so when students transfer to Augustana, leave for other universities, graduate at semester or drop out. it throws off the previous deficit projections.
Bies also said that if enrollment numbers continue to increase, the university could be in the black in the near future, but increases in classes will require more expenses in housing, parking and academics.
“We know that there is going to be an ongoing need for expenditures,” Bies said. “But as classes become built up, I think the deficit will really go away.”
During the meetings, Bies said the board also expressed interest in accelerating the planning process for the proposed Student Activities Center and Morrison Commons renovation.
He said there was rumination on combining both the activities center and commons renovations into one project and centralizing it on campus.
The first step is starting the planning process, Bies said. The second is approaching planning with an open mind.
“The frame is really within the next five months to have a definition of what we need, where it may be sited on campus and what the key elements are to the strategic facility plan,” Bies said. “We want to go into planning with eyes wide open, without a preconceived agenda, and let the process put the definition to the needs assessment.”
The board also heard a presentation from athletes and coaches about the outdoor track. Davis said it is a priority for the board.
“Something has to happen down the line for there to be a track,” Davis said.
At this time, Bies said, the university scrapped the indoor track design and, instead, opted for an outdoor track facility on the southside of campus on 33rd Street across from the Elmen Center. The project already has substantial funding from a major gift Augustana received a few years ago.
“We’re in the feasibility planning process in regards to that,” Bies said. “There is a planning committee currently being convened for that process. I would say with confidence we are moving forward on that project as soon as possible.”
Davis said the meeting gave President Herseth Sandlin the steering wheel to set the ship on course.
“President Herseth Sandlin has a lot on her plate right now,” Davis said. “But this allowed her an opportunity to set the path and ensure the board is on board with her.
So far, Davis said he sees nothing but positivity between Herseth Sandlin, the administration leaders, the board and the faculty.
“I get a really positive vibe right now from every aspect of campus,” Davis said.
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