TTU takes advantage of construction funding opportunities

Visitors to Tennessee Tech University's campus don't have to look far to see numerous construction projects in progress, nearing completion or approaching a start.

But with tuition rising by 6 percent this fall and $2.7 million in budget reductions required this year, how does university construction take place on campus during tight budget times?

Currently, four projects -- the Nursing and Health Services Building, the Hooper Eblen renovation, residence hall demolition and construction, and the site preparation for Ray Morris Hall housing the Millard Oakley STEM Center -- reflect a campus experiencing transformation and progress, says TTU President Bob Bell.

"We hold ourselves to a high standard of stewardship, and these projects have been funded in ways that reflect the university's commitment to that standard," said Bell.

Funding from one-time sources not related to student fees or tuition allows most major construction projects, including these current ones, to be completed.

A combination of state, federal and private funds paved the way for the $24 million Nursing and Health Services Building that will open Aug. 15. The project received $15.4 million from the Tennessee legislature in 2005, followed by $2.5 million in federal funds, plus significant private donations.

Glenn Binkley, assistant director of TTU's facilities and business services, points out that the state's economic climate in years past allowed the state to provide support for the much-needed facility that the nursing program had been seeking for almost a decade. But considering the current state budget, he points out that other major construction projects must feature different funding approaches.

"There is not a single state taxpayer dollar in the building that will house the STEM center," said Binkley, referring to the planned 26,000 square-foot Ray Morris Hall, estimated to cost about $8 million. Major gifts from private donors Ray Morris and Millard Oakley have spearheaded fundraising efforts that include NASA support and federal funds.

State universities often fund facility construction for revenue-driven ventures-- which include residence halls, bookstores, cafeterias and parking garages -- by taking on bond indebtedness through the Tennessee State School Bond Authority. The TSSBA is the arm of the state's comptroller of the treasury delegated for issuing bonds and notes for loans to state higher education institutions constructing income-producing facilities.

"We borrow the money from the TSSBA through bonds, and promise to pay back the bond on a schedule based on the revenue generated," said Binkley.   "In the case of residence halls, we pay off the bond with housing revenue.

"These projects do not rely on state dollars, and they are not affected by the economic climate," Binkley added.

And some projects come to fruition based solely on private giving. The Hooper Eblen basketball office complex at the top of the east end of the seating area, reflects the successful culmination of a fund raising effort to enhance the basketball facilities; the project is being funded 100 percent by the athletics department.

"The life-long success of our students compels us to plan and complete facilities that will enhance their learning experience," said Bell. "Even in these tough economic times, we are committed to finding funding sources and increasing donations so that we can serve our students."


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