The West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission has approved $200 million in bonding authority for construction of new buildings and major renovations of existing ones at the state's baccalaureate colleges and universities.
Included in that is $13 million for Shepherd University. More than $11 million of Shepherd's allocation will go for construction of Phase II of the Center for Creative Arts. I and other members of Jefferson County's legislative delegation worked quite hard to make sure this building was included in the bond.
The CCA is located on the West Campus, across W.Va. 480 from Ram Stadium. The expansion will be a second building located closer to W.Va. 480 than the existing one. The design of Phase II will mirror Phase I, the existing CCA.
I've already encountered complaints from Shepherdstowners that this building is to be built before a parking garage is constructed on the Shepherd campus. Shepherd's President, Dr. Suzanne Shipley, has said consistently since she took the helm of the Eastern Panhandle's public university a little more than three years ago that the parking garage was the most important priority for new construction. I know it is still the highest priority for new construction at Shepherd.
The problem is that when the state provides a college or university extra funding - outside that institution's base budget - for new construction that extra funding may be used for "academic" buildings only. "Auxiliary" buildings - dormitories, sports fields, cafeterias, parking garages, etc. - must "float on their own bottom." In other words, the institution must pay for auxiliaries out of its own base budget. This is a rule established by the HEPC several years ago.
It's my understanding that Phase II of the CCA is only the third highest priority for the university - the parking garage being the highest and an overpass or underpass where W.Va. 480 separates the East Campus from the West Campus being the second - but the CCA Phase II has the highest priority of any academic building. So that's where this bond money must go.
This means we must continue to work to find a way to get money for the parking garage. I have been trying hard to find such a way for several years now, with the help of others in Jefferson County's legislative delegation. We do see some possibilities, but they must wait until the next regular session of the Legislature.
One possibility, which I've mentioned before, is money from table games at the Charles Town racetrack. Presently, 1 percent of that money goes to the state Lottery Commission for administration.
That allocation ends in July 2012. No decision has been made regarding the future disposition of that money.
Our legislative delegation supports taking half of that money - one half of 1 percent - and giving it to Shepherd as a dedicated funding source in perpetuity. Shepherd would get an estimated additional $500,000 to $700,000 per year. That would be enough for the debt service on a 30-year bond for the $10 million necessary to build a 500-car parking garage. There are also other ideas.
Plans are for the parking garage to be built where Sara Cree Hall now sits. That building, a "money pit" if there ever was one, will be torn down. The studio theater now in Sara Cree will be replaced by one in Phase II of the CCA. So building Phase II before the parking garage does make some sense.
Gov. Joe Manchin supports the parking garage, but there is a very good chance he won't be governor by the time the Legislature goes into session in January. He's running for the U.S. Senate in the election to fill the remainder of the term of the late Robert C. Byrd, and polls show him well in the lead at the moment.
Should he win, the president of the Senate will become "acting governor" until a special election to fill the vacancy. The state constitution doesn't specify when that special election must happen. Many think it won't happen until November 2012.
Earl Ray Tomblin is president of the Senate, and most observers think he will be re-elected Senate president in January. He has told me and the rest of our delegation he strongly supports getting Shepherd a parking garage.
I think we need to revisit this idea that extra state money to a college or university must only go for academic buildings. Some auxiliaries, like cafeterias and dormitories, can generate enough revenue to pay for themselves, but a pedestrian underpass certainly cannot, and a parking garage can only generate a portion of the money needed to build it.
Plus, it's fairly easy for a large institution like West Virginia University or Marshall University to afford to subsidize an auxiliary building. It's much more difficult for a smaller school like Shepherd to find enough extra money for a parking garage or an underpass - and Shepherd is underfunded compared to other colleges and universities in West Virginia.
By the way, I'm told that both the town of Shepherdstown and the university now strongly favor an underpass over an overpass. The underpass would be wide and well-lighted, more like a passage under a bridge than a tunnel. W.Va. 480 would be raised a few feet, which means its intersection with Shepherd Grade would be safer, as well as the passage between the East Campus and the West Campus.
I'm also getting questions about the appearance of Phase II of the CCA. The appearance of Phase I is overwhelmingly disapproved of by Shepherdstowners. I think it's ugly, as well, but that's not important. What is important is that a big majority of Shepherdstowners think its ugly.
While I suspect it's too late for a major redesign, I hope something can be done to moderate the appearance somewhat. Perhaps the siding could be something other than copper, something more compatible with the other buildings nearby.
I use the term "Shepherdstowners" to apply not only to the 1,800 residents of the town of Shepherdstown, but to the more than 10,000 residents of the Shepherdstown Magisterial District. Most of them live within a three-mile radius of the corner of German and King streets, and thus, are affected by the traffic and parking problems in downtown Shepherdstown.