University of Vermont

The College of Arts and Sciences

Department of Physics

Board Gives Preliminary Approval to $100 Million STEM Complex

Last meeting for board chair Cioffi

Watch the animation of the plans for UVM's new STEM facility.

Long-serving UVM Board of Trustees chair Robert F. Cioffi began his valedictory report at his final board meeting last week by citing an impressive list of changes that have transformed UVM during his 12-year board tenure, including applications that have risen from 8,300 to 24,000, an endowment that has grown from $180 million to more than $400 million, the creation of the Honors College and the construction of the Dudley H. Davis Center.

The focus of the February meeting – a proposed $100 million science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) complex, the largest capital project in UVM’s history – made clear that UVM’s current leadership has no intention of resting on the successes of the last decade.

In his letter to the board preceding the meeting, UVM president Tom Sullivan, who made the STEM project a centerpiece of the Strategic Action Plan he released last fall, referenced the facility several times, making clear it was an important agenda item. At the meeting itself, Provost David Rosowsky was communications point person. 

The provost began his presentation to the Committee of the Whole with an animation (see above), a 3-D, computerized fly-over of an artist’s rendering of the 250,000 square foot complex. The animation brought the project – set behind Williams Hall and the Old Mill in an area now occupied by Cook Physical Science and the Angell Lecture Hall, both of which will be replaced, and Votey Hall, which will be renovated – vividly to life.    

In making the case for the facility, Provost David Rosowsky warned of the dangers of inaction, at a time when many top universities are investing heavily in STEM. 

“Each year the condition and utility of these important teaching and research spaces affects our recruitment of top faculty and our ability to attract top students, especially undergraduates,” he said.

The facility will clearly benefit students and faculty in the STEM disciplines, the provost said, allowing UVM to double its undergraduate STEM enrollment at a time when national leaders and Governor Peter Shumlin, closer to home, are calling for colleges to dramatically increase the number of STEM graduates.   

But the new facility will benefit all UVM students, he said. 

“Scientific literacy, technological competency and an understanding of the role science and technology play in shaping our society must be considered core competencies for a UVM graduate, as important to an undergraduate education as the humanities and the arts, the social sciences, writing, cultural competency and global understanding.”

“The time is now to commit to this ambitious project,” he said.

After three STEM presentations in three separate committees, the board acted, granting preliminary approval to the university to issue bonds to fund 75 percent of the project, contingent on several variables: the university’s ability to raise the remaining 25 percent in private philanthropy, the board’s approval of schematic drawings of the project and UVM’s ability to stay within its debt limit of 5.75 percent. The board authorized $1.5 million to be spent on the full design phase of the project, leading to a complete set of schematic drawings.

Director of Capital Planning and Management Robert Vaughan presented an overview of the project’s timetable. Phase I, consisting of a research and teaching lab located roughly where Angel Hall is now, will be completed in December 2016. Phase II, a classroom and office building located roughly in the space occupied by Cook, will be completed in June 2018. The Votey renovation will occur in multiple phases and will be finished in June 2018. 

Cioffi, one of the university’s longest serving board members, joined the UVM board in 2002. In 2008, he was elected to a second six-year term. He has served as chair since 2010. He will be succeeded by the board’s current vice chair, Deborah H. McAneny.

In other developments:   

  • The board authorized the UVM administration to proceed with project design development and the generation of an associated cost estimate and funding plan, as well as fundraising from private donors, in support of the Multi-Purpose Center. The proposed facility, which the board had identified earlier as a capital priority and approved in concept, would serve as the primary home of UVM’s ice hockey and basketball programs, as well as a venue for major ceremonial events, speakers, concerts, entertainment, other large gatherings, recreational activity, wellness, fitness and educational programming.
  • In the Budget, Finance and Investment Committee meeting, Provost Rosowsky gave an FY 2015 budget presentation that included an underlying assumption in the draft base budget that calls for a 3.4 percent tuition increase, which would make it the second lowest increase in 36 years; and budget reductions in administrative and academic units of 2.7 percent  and .6 percent respectively on average. He expects that new income from expanded summer programs, international enrollment, new masters programs and distance and online education to help close a $5.6 million carryover shortfall in net tuition revenue from FY14.   
  • Outgoing Trustee and Investment Subcommittee chair Sam Bain told BFI committee members that the university’s endowment had reached a record high of $422 million, compared to $401 million on Sept. 30, 2013. Based on comparison median return data, UVM’s 16.2 percent return was 250 basis points ahead of the 13.7 percent overall average among Cambridge & Associates client list of approximately 400 colleges and universities.
  • Bain also reported to BFI members that after multiple open forums, discussions and presentations, the Investment Subcommittee voted unanimously on Dec. 18, 2013 not to take action on divesting from fossil fuels companies. Richard Cate, vice president for finance and treasurer, said the administration is working closely with the UVM Foundation to establish an alternative investment vehicle for donors who do not want their gifts to be invested in fossil fuels or nuclear power by April 1. Students who disagreed with this decision held a brief demonstration at the end of the BFI meeting.  
  • Fulfilling a “compelling need” for both the greater social good and UVM’s graduate curriculum, the board approved the creation of an online master of public health degree presented during the Educational Policy & Institutional Resources committee meerting that builds on the foundational success of the certificate of graduate study launched in 2012. According to Cathy Paris, chair of the Faculty Senate Curricular Affairs committee, the core courses are in place with a strong contingent of students to enroll from inside and outside of the university. The degree, she said, is a natural complement to a medical or nursing degree, and it addresses the demand for public health education by Vermont employees in the Department of Health and other community and non-profit agencies. The online degree also allows UVM to contribute to the national demand for education in public health.
  • The EPIR committee heard a progress update on the Career Success Action Plan, with Career Center director Pamela Gardner noting that the Davis Center Career + Experience Hub has served more than 2,000 individuals over the course of 3,000 visits since opening this fall. Among other measurable successes, drop-in advising increased 35 percent over fall 2012, undergraduate research applicant numbers nearly doubled and study abroad introductory workshops increased in attendance by 25 percent.
  • EPIR also heard a presentation on Think College Vermont, a U.S. Department of Education grant-funded program run by the College of Education and Social Services’ Center on Disability and Community Inclusion (CDCI) that provides academic and social experiences, as well as employment, for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Think College student Stirling Peebles made a strong presentation to the committee on her success with the program, noting that her confidence and independence soared as she developed skills in her field of interest including video editing and acting.

The complete consent agenda is available here: