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USF hopes to recoup PECO losses

USF Tampa has been denied millions in requested maintenance funds for almost four years. Yet within the next two years, officials say its requests may be met in full.

USF Assistant Vice President and Director of Government Relations Mark Walsh said the state economy has been to blame for the shortfalls in Public Education Capital Outlay (PECO) funding, which affects everything from building repairs to sidewalk construction. But by the 2014-2015 fiscal year, the USF System should return to receiving the full amount of its requested funding, he said.

“Generally, we have asked for about $10 million in basic utility infrastructure maintenance works fund for the Tampa campus,” he said. “We have not received the full $10 million in about the last three or four years.”

The Florida Board of Governors has projected that the state Legislature will allocate about $5.5 million to PECO funding for the State University System in the 2012-2013 fiscal year.

“It’s less than our request, but is a very helpful amount for us by our estimates,” he said. “And then for the second year (fiscal year 2014-2015), they (estimate to) go back to the full amount that we request.”

Walsh said the money will be available because of an anticipated pick-up in the national and state economies, which dictate the total amount of PECO funds available.

Last year, the USF System received more PECO funds than any other state university in Florida. Yet of the approximately $37 million the University received, about $35 million was granted for the specific use of building Phase I of USF’s Polytechnic campus, a campus which has since tried to gain independence from the USF System.

The $2 million leftover is what the rest of the USF System, comprised of

USF Tampa, USF St. Petersburg and USF Sarasota-Manatee, has used to do everything from replacing light fixtures to creating new buildings.

Siva Prakash, Associate Director for Physical Plant, said meeting the needs of the University with limited funding has not been easy this semester.

“(With limited funds, we are) addressing growth and programmatic needs, improving the study (or) work-life environment and updating building systems components including air conditioning, roof replacements, code changes and related requirements,” he said.

The University must comply with safety standards and guidelines established by local, state and federal agencies, he said, yet these standards are often changing.

All USF buildings currently under construction will meet standards set by the American Disabilities Act (ADA), the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).

As of 2007, buildings with rooms that accommodate more than 50 people must now include unisex, or gender-neutral restrooms, as required by the Florida Building Code. Newly constructed buildings with unisex restrooms include the School of Music, Patel Center for Global Solutions, the expanded portions of the Campus Recreation Center, Champion’s Choice Dining Hall and the auditoriums in the Interdisciplinary Science Teaching & Research Facility (ISA).

Several older buildings on campus do not have these restrooms on any floor.

Additionally, the University attempts to keep up with sustainability initiatives on a limited budget, Prakash said.

The campus installed more than a dozen water bottle filling stations this year and plans to include the fill stations in all new buildings constructed on campus.

Prakash said renovations are made during periods of low occupancy, such as holiday breaks, to minimize the impact on students, faculty, and staff.

Currently, the only buildings under construction are the ISA building, which was opened in August and will cost about $80 million once completed, the Sun Dome and Convocation Center, which is receiving $30 million in renovations.

Prakash said all renovations should be completed by mid-April of 2012, but the Tampa campus is not planning any additional major renovation projects for the next fiscal year.