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Regents raise CEU project's priority

Fine arts center rises to 3rd on list going to State Building Board

LOGAN — College of Eastern Utah President Ryan Thomas said Thursday he wished his old fine arts center had an asbestos problem. It might make his plight for a new building seem even more desperate.

Thomas pulled out all the stops for the Utah Board of Regents, which every year ranks campus building projects and forwards their list to the State Building Board. Every year CEU's project ranks low.

Thomas even made a last-minute phone call to a large donor to give his project more leverage.

When all the jockeying of college and university presidents was over, the CEU project moved from sixth to third on the list. It helped that Thomas' building was considered by regents to be the most dangerous to its inhabitants.

"Not exactly a distinction we were seeking," Thomas said. But he'll take it if it means he stands a better chance of getting $5 million in state funds toward a $16 million project.

The CEU building is among nine projects that, if all of them were funded, would cost $191 million in state funds, or a total of $225.1 million.

The reality is, based on funding history, that only a few projects will get state funding. One thing lawmakers look at when deciding which projects to fund is the amount of private funding.

Thomas told regents he will be getting $11 million from one donor. Regents were sympathetic and changed their rankings.

Today the State Building Board will consider the regents' list as the board prioritizes its own list of all state capital projects. By Oct. 20, the board should have a final list — after that it's up to the 2006 Legislature to decide which buildings get built and which ones will have to wait another year.

The message regents may have sent to that board this week is one of a prioritization process that lost some integrity, according to Richard Kendell, state commissioner of higher education.

"Don't change the ranking until there is money in the bank," Kendell told regents. He urged regents to keep the list exactly as it was presented in Thursday's meeting.

Instead, regents chose to take two University of Utah projects — requiring more than $100 million in state funds — off the list in order to fund them another way. They put at the top of the list a Utah State University request for $5 million that was ranked last. And Utah Valley State College's request for nearly $38 million for a new digital learning center ended up farther down the list, again.

Some regents defended changing the list based on which projects stand a better chance of getting state money.

"I don't know who can divine who has the best chance of getting funding," Kendell said. "You're better off in the long run by keeping the integrity of the process."