Topeka The Kansas Board of Regents has promised lawmakers it will make state universities more efficient.
In return, it wants something from lawmakers release from a system where the schools have to pay state bureaucrats in Topeka for certain costs associated with construction and printing.
"We're asking them to take the handcuffs off of us and allow us to be more efficient," said Clay Blair, chairman of the regents.
The regents have proposed that the Legislature remove a requirement that the six state universities, like all state agencies, pay the state Division of Architecture Services a 1 percent fee on state-funded construction projects.
Regents also are pushing for a proposal to give schools more leeway in using their own print shops or private printers instead of the state's Division of Printing.
Blair said it's ridiculous for a school such as Kansas University to pay the state the 1 percent fee for architecture services when KU has its own staff of architects and engineers.
"What role does the state architect play?" he asked.
University Architect Warren Corman agreed with Blair, saying that KU's staff is more than capable of overseeing the construction of a building.
"We really don't need anyone else looking over our shoulder," Corman said.
Dealing with cost
And in years of heavy construction, the fees add up quickly. In fiscal year 1999, KU paid $363,000 to the state for architecture services, and in 1998, the school paid $247,000, according to the state.
In the past two fiscal years, the amount of construction has gone down and so have the fees to about $50,000 per year at KU. If the fees were removed for all the regents universities in the current fiscal year, the schools would save an estimated $415,000.
But Thaine Hoffman, director of the state's architect services, said his office oversees important parts of the construction process to make sure everything meets safety codes.
He said his office reviews construction plans, helps in the bidding process and then conducts inspections.
"You don't leave code enforcement to the owner. When you work for the university, you are inclined to go with what the administration wants, and life safety will take a back seat," Hoffman said.
Corman said that wasn't true. He said KU's design and construction team is "very serious about doing things correctly."
And, Corman alleged, KU doesn't get good service from the state architecture office, saying they often miss meetings or simply get in the way.
"We don't mind paying for services rendered, but sometimes we don't get the services we paid for," he said.
KU: "most vocal" opponent
Hoffman denied the allegation. He said KU has been "the most vocal" state entity opposed to paying the architect fees.
Corman concedes it has been a long-standing "fussing game."
The savings on architecture fees don't appear to be as great on the printing side.
According to KU, the school did $2.5 million worth of printing and binding at its printing service, while having about $81,000 worth done outside the plant.
Of that amount, $48,000 was done by private printers and $33,000 was done by the state printer in Topeka.
Under state law, if KU wants to go to a private printer, it must get permission from the state Division of Printing, which has the right of first refusal of the job.
Richard McKinney, an assistant vice chancellor at KU, said the administration had not formed an opinion on the regents' proposal, which would release the school from having to get permission to hire a private printer.
Richard Gonzales, director of the Division of Printing, said the plant usually only does small jobs for KU that the school might not have the equipment to do.
"If we can't do the job, or our schedule is full, or if they get lower bids, we give them permission," to go to a private vendor, he said.