Governor signs budget package, moving Otto Olsen replacement forward

Otto-OlsenIt’s official: the legislation to fund University of Nebraska renovation projects has passed and been signed by Gov. Pete Ricketts. What that means for UNK: A new Otto Olsen building.

The Governor on Wednesday approved legislation related to the University of Nebraska’s two highest priorities this year: a proposal to extend a state-university partnership on building renovation projects; and a proposal to improve the university’s competitive position in its president and chancellor searches. Both received strong support from state senators.

The budget package approved by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Ricketts continues the state’s current million annual commitment to NU maintenance projects from 2020 through 2030. While less than the amount the university had requested, the funding will allow the university to issue about 0 million in debt to pursue some of its highest-priority projects.

In consultation with the chancellors and using data from an analysis of the condition, capacity and use of its state-aided facilities, the university has identified the following renovation projects for funding:

  • UNK: Otto Olsen Vocational Arts Building demolishment and replacement
  • UNL: Scott Engineering Complex, Nebraska Hall and Mabel Lee/Henzlik Halls
  • UNMC: Wittson Hall phase 1 and the former College of Pharmacy
  • UNO: Strauss Performing Arts Center, Arts and Sciences Hall and renovation of the First Data Corp. building adjacent to the Pacific Street Campus which has been acquired using private funds

UNK Chancellor Doug Kristensen said the Otto Olsen building has been on the replacement schedule for over 20 years and the $32 million earmarked for the project will help the campus meet many needs.

“Otto Olsen is one building, but it houses core infrastructure, academic programs in three of our four academic colleges, and the child development center. We are in the final stages of analysis so we can address as many foreseeable needs as effectively and efficiently as possible.”

Hank Bounds
Hank Bounds
Doug Kristensen
Doug Kristensen

“The Governor and Legislature are balancing any number of pressing issues, and I am very grateful for their ongoing commitment to excellence at the University of Nebraska,” said President Hank Bounds in a news release.

“We’re fortunate that our policymakers understand well the vital role the state’s public university plays in ensuring Nebraska’s economic competitiveness and quality of life. Their support – together with the good work of our faculty and staff – positions us well for the future.”

Bounds noted that the total cost to bring all university facilities to “like new” condition would exceed $1.1 billion. While maintenance challenges will remain, the state’s continued partnership in caring for valuable shared building assets will help ensure that students, faculty and staff have quality facilities in which to learn and work, he said.

Chancellor Kristensen extended special appreciation to Speaker Galen Hadley for sponsoring and championing the legislation.

The budget package also includes a 3 percent increase in the university’s base funding for 2016-17, which Bounds said will allow the university to advance a number of key priorities. He added that in the current higher education environment – in which the market for talent is increasingly competitive, the need to expand access and success for students is growing, and universities are expected to play a more prominent role in addressing the world’s most pressing challenges – continued investments will be necessary for NU to maximize its impact.

Bounds will bring a proposed 2016-17 operating budget, including proposals for salaries and other priorities, to the Board of Regents in May. The Board already has approved a 2.5 percent tuition increase for the upcoming year. The Board will consider the university’s 2017-19 budget request to the state in July.

NU’s other priority legislation, LB1109, will allow the university to identify a single priority finalist in president and chancellor searches who would be subject to a 30-day public vetting period prior to Board of Regents consideration of his or her appointment.

Current law effectively requires the identification of four public finalists. The new process is more in line with an overwhelming majority of leading higher education institutions in the country and ensures NU’s continue competitiveness in the national marketplace for talent, according to the NU news release.