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Interdisciplinary Science Building still awaits PECO funds, slows construction

Until USF receives more funding, the newest building on campus will remain unfinished.

Though the grand opening for the Interdisciplinary Science Teaching and Research Facility (ISA) was Aug. 8, the seven-story building is still incomplete due to a lack of Public Education Capital Outlay (PECO) funds.

Karla Willman, assistant director of communications for USF, said the Florida Legislature has awarded USF about $71 million in PECO funds for the building since the 2006-07 fiscal year, which are allocated toward construction and maintenance projects. The ISA building project is projected to cost about $80 million to complete.

Willman said USF has yet to receive approximately $12 million of the promised PECO funds allocated toward the project, and USF took out a loan for $9 million to cover the difference between the PECO funding and the projected cost of the project.

Until the funds are available, USF will postpone creating conference rooms that cost nearly $2 million and laboratories on the seventh floor of the building.

For now, the seventh floor will be used as “shell space,” Willman said, and will house a temporary room for new student and family orientation that is under construction.

Willman said the room will be completed by the beginning of next school year and will allow future labs and classrooms to be built at a reduced cost.

Florida House Rep. Betty Reed (D-59) said the delayed PECO funding is due to an overall poor economy and the fund is unable to accommodate the number of requests coming in from state universities.

“As the PECO (requests) have (continued to come in), the final funding needed has not been available to complete full funding of the facility,” she said. “It is not unusual for the amount of PECO funding available to be less than the amounts requested and needed by the universities, and partial construction or phased construction is not uncommon.”

PECO funding has been severely reduced in recent years, Reed said.

“There is never enough PECO funding for any public university or college to meet all facility needs for new growth, renovation, replacement or maintenance,” Reed said. “However, now there is even less than ‘not enough.'”

Mark Walsh, director of government relations at USF, said to The Oracle in March that USF only received about $1 million of the usual $5 million it receives every year in PECO funds and that it was “the first time we can identify since the program started in the 1960s where, if the Legislature doesn’t make changes, there won’t be any (PECO) money to appropriate” in coming years.

Until more funding is available, Willman said all current construction in the building will be paid for with money already available to USF. The University will have to wait until spring to request more PECO funding for the next fiscal year.

State Rep. Janet Cruz (D-58)said in an email to The Oracle that projections for next year’s funding are bleak.

“Just a few days ago, a panel of state economists slashed estimates for how much construction money that they think will be available in 2012 … and they project that the funding will grow even tighter in 2013,” she said.

According to the Tampa Tribune, state university officials say the state will only have $113 million to allocate between public schools, community colleges and universities.