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COLLEGES GET NEW LEASES ON LIFE

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With a boom in research grants and bust in "brick and mortar" funding, Utah's colleges and universities are turning to leases at a record-breaking rate, almost $10 million worth last year.

A new report released this week by the Utah System of Higher Education shows that the state's nine institutions have increased their spending on leased space by more than 20 percent between 1994 and 1995.In a memo to the Board of Regents, Commissioner Cecelia H. Foxley said the schools now have 165 leases totaling 1.3 million square feet of space in off-campus buildings.

After dropping some leases and adding others, the system showed a net increase of nine leases and 177,597 square feet in the one-year period. The cost rose by $2.2 million.

However, the actual amount being spent on leases could be much higher because the report includes only those leases that exceed $50,000 a year or commit the institutions to leases of more than five years.

"The vast majority of the leases are in research and most are at the University of Utah," said Dale Hatch, associate commissioner for finance. "Those leases are primarily self-supporting and don't represent state money."

In fact, they reflect Utah's success in attracting federal and corporate research grants that "bring dollars into the state and lessen the amount of state support that would otherwise be needed," Hatch said.

Don Carpenter, associate commissioner for facilities, said another factor in the growth in leases is the decreasing amount of construction money going to the colleges and universities as well as the increasing amount of outreach by those institutions.

Leasing space makes sense when a program must have the flexibility to move to a different location as demands warrant or has a limited life span.

"If a program is going to be someplace permanently, then it makes more sense to build and own," Carpenter said.

The University of Utah accounts for most of the leases, 99, and pays about $7.4 million a year in rent, mostly for research and medical functions.

The U.'s leases include space at the old St. Mark's Hospital for its artificial organs program; dialysis centers in Idaho, Provo, Midvale and Ogden; rooms scattered throughout the nearby Research Park for medical and general academic functions; medical offices in downtown Salt Lake City; various county, municipal and school district facilities for its Division of Continuing Education; parking lots; midwifery centers in Murray and Holladay; and rooms at Parley's Park Elementary in Park City for dance lessons.

Utah State University has 20 leases costing $787,000. Leased facilities include an airport hangar; warehouse; classroom space in various parts of the state; and offices and research labs in the Logan USU Research Park.

Other lease totals include: Weber State University, $204,136; Southern Utah University, $154,322; Dixie College, $490,297; College of Eastern Utah, $175,030; Utah Valley State College, $180,034; and Salt Lake Community College, $478,234. Snow College is the only institution to report no lease expenditures.