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Board to vote on 10-year housing plan

          ZANESVILLE — Ohio University might take on $190 million in debt if the Board of Trustees votes today to move forward with a possible 10-year student housing master plan that would add new residence halls to campus and renovate existing buildings.

          The three-phase, 10-year plan would add space for 2,058 new beds to campus and renovate space for 1,811 more, according to the Board of Trustees Resources Committee presentation yesterday. All three phases would cost $281 million.

          Two new residence halls could open by fall 2013 if the Board of Trustees approves a resolution at its April meeting allowing OU to take on the $190 million in debt necessary to fund the project, said Kent Smith, vice president for Student Affairs and co-chair of the Residential Housing Advisory Committee.

          Some trustees expressed concern about taking on such a large amount of debt at yesterday’s Resources Committee meeting.

          “We’re getting close to hitting our debt ceiling. …  We would have very limited room in the future should the need arise,” said Trustee Kevin B. Lake.

          The remainder of the funding necessary to complete the project — about $90 million — would come from student room and board fees throughout the 10 years, Smith said.

          “I certainly understand the concern because housing is not the only capital need that we have on campus,” he said. “… We certainly want to balance what we’re doing so we don’t use too much debt service so that it hurts the other campus needs long-term.”

          OU is $480 million behind on infrastructure maintenance projects, according to a memo from Stephen Golding, vice president for Finance and Administration.

          Golding, however, also defended the housing master plan.

          “The plan that’s presented is the most rational plan for solving the housing problem that this campus is facing,” he said during the committee meeting. “This approach is the right approach.”

          If the trustees move forward with the housing plan and allow OU to go into debt, student room and board fees could increase, Smith said.

          OU is the third-most expensive of the 14 public universities in Ohio and fifth-most costly for housing. OU does not want to move up on the scale in terms of overall affordability as a result of increased housing fees, Smith said.

          OU also hopes to attract prospective students through updated housing.

          “The reality is that our peers in the state are farther along than we are in having suite-style housing,” Smith said. “I believe (housing) will be a major factor for prospective students. I don’t think it will be the sole determinant … but I think it will enhance the overall experience.”

          The housing project would add more suite-style rooms to residence halls in order to compete with other public universities in the state.

          By the end of the presentation, the trustees agreed to bring the discussion to the full-board meeting today for a vote about whether or not to move forward with the project.

          “I think there is an enormous amount of money being spent on things that need to be replaced,” said Trustee Frank P. Krasovec. “… I think we’re attacking it in the right way, we just need the information.”


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