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Archive for Friday, January 19, 1996

SCHOOL BONDS TOUGH SELL

January 19, 1996

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— Selling legislators on fixing KU disability access and fire code problems is the easy part of a $163 million building plan.

Lawrence physician John Hiebert isn't swallowing the prescription House conservatives are writing for state university buildings.

Hiebert, chair of the Kansas Board of Regents, is sticking with Gov. Bill Graves' plan to finance $163 million in construction and renovation at Kansas University and five other regents schools with bonds backed by the state.

"We're going to have to work very hard to bring home the governor's proposal," Hiebert said. "There is a proposal circulating in conservative quarters that would be a much lower amount."

GOP hardliners are crafting an alternative that allocates a maximum of $30.8 million for federal Americans with Disabilities Act and state fire code deficiencies, he said. They aren't enthusiastic about spending more for classroom improvements, building repairs, remodeling and new construction.

"As with any expenditure, I'm sure the Legislature will take a look at it," said Rep. Phillip Kline, R-Overland Park. "Some of us ... have a concern that there be enough flexibility to meet other contingencies."

Kline, who likes Graves' plan because it takes advantage of moderate bond interest rates, anticipates debate about lower project priorities set by regents.

Warren Corman, regents facilities director, said a majority of legislators appear willing to finance ADA and fire code repairs. Opponents of the other projects -- expansion of Murphy Hall at KU, for example -- don't appreciate the state of disrepair in academic buildings, he said.

"We have some educating to do," he said. "There's a groundswell of people who don't want to bond anything."

Corman said capital improvement needs have been estimated at $288 million for the six regents universities -- including $117 million at KU and the KU Medical Center in Kansas City, Kan.

Graves proposed that bond debt would be paid over 15 years with revenue from an existing statewide property tax.

Bonds could be sold this year in the 5 percent range. Corman said construction costs are expected to escalate 6 percent to 10 percent in the next few years.

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