Lefton and Fingerhut to meet this week

Jessica White

President Lester Lefton and Eric Fingerhut, chancellor of the Ohio Board of Regents, will meet again this week to negotiate Kent State’s $210 million bond proposal that is part of the university’s $250 million campus-wide renovation plan.

So far, Kent State has been unsuccessful in receiving Fingerhut’s approval, largely because it doesn’t want fees attached to students’ tuition until the five-year construction plan is complete. That way, students don’t have to pay for renovations they won’t see, Fingerhut said.

But Lefton said Fingerhut is requesting the impossible.

“The reality is, someone has to pay,” Lefton said.

Fingerhut wants Kent State to pay for the renovations with existing tuition money, Lefton said.

“But our tuition is a lot lower than everybody else’s,” Lefton said. “If we had the same tuition as Cincinnati, for example, we could pay for it without doing the bond.”

Why the bond?

Gregg Floyd, vice president of finance and administration, said administrators decided on the use of the bond and student fees to pay off the debt because there were no other reasonable options.

Floyd said the university only receives about $10 million from the state each year.

“Although we’re grateful for that money, it’s simply not enough,” he said.

Even if Kent State saves the money over time, the maintenance problems continue to grow with that time. So while the university is saving, the costs are still growing, he said.

Floyd said private donations aren’t enough, either, even though this was Kent State’s best fundraising year ever, with $39.9 million.

“We have about $350 million in deferred maintenance needs,” Floyd said. “State funds and private donations are helping, but they’re not nearly enough.”

Floyd said to look at the deteriorating Art Building, the science labs using outdated equipment or the pieces of concrete falling off the back of Williams Hall.

“We’re dealing with issues of obsolescence, building integrity and health and safety standards,” he said. “We’ve waited a long time to address these issues, and we really can’t wait any longer.”

Floyd said the past decade has been spent renovating halls from the early 1900s, such as Franklin Hall, Kent Hall and Oscar Ritchie Hall, but now it’s time to update the “newer” halls, which have barely been touched since the 1960s.

“It’s a lot of work and I don’t like the increased fees either,” he said, “But we have a responsibility to make sure that the campus is safe, structurally sound and maintained and can deliver a state-of-the-art education.”

Fees across Ohio

Robert Evans, spokesperson for the Ohio Board of Regents, said Kent State is the first Ohio public university to propose student fees for academic buildings.

“Universities use student fees all the time,” he said. “But they’re usually for auxiliary purposes, such as football stadiums or student union centers.”

Students at Ohio State University have to pay a $55-per-quarter student union facility fee, among other general fees, that helps fund their Ohio Union, said Liz Cook, Ohio State spokesperson. Cook said the university does not assess fees for academic building repair or construction.

Claire Wagner, Miami University spokesperson, also said student fees have never been used for academic buildings. She said the university has other sources for those buildings.

“We use state capitol appropriations and issue bonds sometimes,” she said. “Sometimes, we can use donor gifts, and we have amounts built into our budget every year for necessary repairs such as roof replacement.”

Wagner said the first fee used for a facility was to pay off Miami’s recreational center in 1994. Another facility fee will be used in 2013 to pay for a new student center once it is opened.

“Students agreed in the last academic year in a vote to pay for part of the construction and operations of a new student center,” she said. She said the fee will be about $125 per semester.

Lefton’s argument

Lefton said Kent State’s proposed fees would be put to better use.

“Part of the chancellor’s argument is that we’re breaking new ground by assessing a fee for academic buildings,” he said. “But this is what we should be assessing them for, not for a stadium that you use six days a year. We want to build buildings that benefit all of our students — classrooms and laboratories — but we’re being given a hard time.”

Lefton also said the fees won’t start for three years, and they won’t reach their full $24-per-credit-hour price until the last year of construction. And if the proposal isn’t approved by November, the low interest rate bonds will expire and the cost to students will only increase more, he said.

Lefton said he’s hopeful about his next meeting with Fingerhut.

“We’re just trying to do what’s best for the university,” he said.

Contact Jessica White at [email protected].