Ohio colleges huddle to choose construction priorities

Meet Gov. John Kasich to begin wish list

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Presidents from Ohio’s public universities and community colleges hope to garner $400 million or more in capital project funding when their collective list of priorities is passed along to state legislators in January.

Many of the state’s 37 public school presidents piled into Gov. John Kasich’s board room in the state house Friday, including University of Cincinnati President Santa Ono and Cincinnati State President O’dell Owens, to begin picking which projects were the most important to higher education in 2014.

Their recommendations will carry weight. Last year, legislators funded $350 million in capital projects based on the group’s priority list, assembled in a process that is unusually collaborative. An additional $50 million in projects was also funded by the state.

Kasich reformed the funding process by convening the Ohio Higher Education Funding Commission, led by Ohio State University’s Gordon Gee, in 2012 to decide together which capital projects were most important, replacing the old model of using a funding formula.

“These folks came together in an unprecedented and unselfish way that has benefited our students and helped them get jobs,” Kasich said after the meeting. “They create a nucleus as good as anyplace in the country if not better. We’re making great progress.”

Timothy Keen, office of budget and management director, said he is confident that the legislature will fund at least $400 million in capital projects for higher education in this new cycle and maybe more. He commended the 37 institutions for working together for the good of the state.

“It’s clearly a superior method to a funding formula and certainly a free-for-all competition,” he said.

Kasich’s education priorities continue to be graduation and workforce development education that fills needs in growing industries and lead quickly to jobs for graduates.

“Higher education is a powerhouse for economic development,” he said.

After the meeting, Ono told WCPO that UC hopes to garner funding for two projects:

• Completion of the ongoing renovation of the Medical Sciences Building, built in 1974 for teaching and research, which is undergoing a four-phase, multi-year rehabilitation of its mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems.
• Renovate buildings on its Reading campus, which can cater to additional research and development in keeping with the governor’s job creation priorities. “It’s a high-quality space that needs some renovations,” Ono said after the meeting, referring to UC’s Reading campus, located on Galbraith Road in Reading and home to the UC Metabolic Disease Institute.

He is a fan of Ohio’s collaborative funding process as it goes into its second cycle. “It’s incredibly effective and unique,” he said.

Owens hopes to secure funding for various efforts in collaboration with UC that help educate students in high-demand areas like nursing.

“What I’ll do happily is sit down with President Ono and see if we can submit proposals collaboratively,” he said, emphasizing collaborations in health care and other two-year degrees at Cincinnati State that seamlessly transition to advanced degrees at UC.

Owens said Cincinnati State’s Middletown campus is also pursuing collaborative efforts with Wright State University.

This year’s commission is led by two southern Ohio education leaders – Southern State Community College President Kevin Boys, formerly superintendent of Loveland City Schools, and Ohio University President Roderick McDavis.

McDavis said the commission plans to submit its priorities by the end of December. Keen said the legislature will take up consideration of the budget requests in early spring. He hopes it will result in projects getting under way in early summer.

Three university presidents and three community and technical college presidents on the commission will take the recommendations of all 37 presidents into consideration as they hash out a priority list, McDavis said. Last year, all 37 presidents signed off on the finished product, and McDavis is optimistic that similar cooperation will flourish this year.

“And I’m very optimistic that the recommendations will be accepted by the legislature,” he said.

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