UC Continues $8.9 Billion in Construction While Struggling to Keep Buildings Open

The California Watch investigative team reports:

"The University of California has slashed public university budgets, yet construction is booming at campuses statewide. The University of California system has $8.9 billion in building projects under way at its 10 campuses and five medical centers, including about $2 billion at UCSF, which is near the top of the spending list."

"With less money to operate the new buildings once they're finished, universities are straining maintenance and energy budgets. At least one new UC campus building is sitting empty because the university can't afford to operate it."

University officials respond that all the construction was in the pipeline before the 2008 economic downturn, and that some construction is funded by part of a $10.4 billion bond voters approved in 2006, from which more than $3 billion went to public higher education. Some is being underwritten by private donations, government research grants and student fees.

About $1 billion came from bonds issued in 2009 under the federal stimulus program – which the universities will have to repay – and $325 million in bonds the UC system issued that year on its own. Individual university campuses also issue their own bonds, and community colleges often get construction money from local bonds.

California Watch added: "The schools also have to clean, light, heat, cool and maintain the new buildings, the burden of which comes out of hard-pressed operating budgets that were cut by $1.4 billion this year, including $650 million at UC. … The most glaring example of what happens when universities put up buildings they can't afford to operate is at UC Riverside, which finished a $36 million building last year for a planned medical school. But it had to push back the medical school's opening to next year at the earliest because it doesn't have the money to run it." (Source: California Watch story published in several newspapers, including the San Francisco Chronicle, March 15.)

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