Lobbyist: BOG a further hurdle for USF projects

Surrounded by several pieces of percussion equipment in his cramped office, Robert McCormick recalls the condition of the music facility in 1974, his first year at USF.

“At that time, it was obvious that the (music) facility was inadequate,” said McCormick, a percussion professor. “I asked about the facility … and was told there was a new music building on the books and not to worry about it.”

Now, more than three decades later, a new music facility remains on the books. And this month’s veto by Gov. Jeb Bush of $1 million in initial funding for a new facility — after it was passed by the House and Senate for the second time in as many years — has left those involved scratching their heads and thinking of ways to get the proposal passed during the next legislative session.

A major problem, according to Associate Vice President of Government Relations Jeff Muir, is the absence of the new facility on the USF Board of Governor’s three-year request list.

“That appears to be the most important thing,” said Muir, who lobbies for USF.

The BOG, a body created by voters in 2002 to run Florida universities without political interference, bases decisions on the amount of available revenue, which is usually inadequate, Muir said.

“The primary criteria for the BOG is not need,” Muir said. “And we need to convince them that (a new facility) is an immediate need and that they need to look at need in terms of them making their decisions.”

USF President Judy Genshaft, who showed the governor photos of the current facility in an attempt to get a new one funded, says she will continue to “work hard to educate legislators, the Board of Governors and the governor about the needs of our College of Visual and Performing Arts.”

Adding to the college’s frustration, Bush approved a $7-million land expansion for USF’s Research Park that was also was not on the three-year request list. Muir said it was a matter of money.

“The research park was just a one-time expenditure,” Muir said.

“(The Research Park) would not have additional costs year after year like the visual and performing arts building.”

After planning, construction and equipment, the new facility would cost a total of $40.5 million, according to Muir. And if the initial funding were approved next year, the facility wouldn’t be completed until 2009 or 2010, Muir said.

It’s why, given the condition of the current building, funding needs to get passed as soon as possible, Muir said.

Built in 1963 for 100 students, the current facility is unsuitable for the 332 students enrolled in the School of Music. Mold, leaks and asbestos are present and students are sometimes forced to practice outside, according to School of Music Director Wade Weast.

“I hope, as a result of (the failure of the new facility’s approval), which I consider to be a colossal error, that somebody will try to assess how they did things and do things differently the next time,” Weast said.

McCormick, who said Bush “did not do his research,” had similar sentiments.

“The issue for 30 years has been (that) there’s not enough facility here to teach the students the way we need to,” he said. “Someday, we have to hope that logic will prevail.”