University of Vermont

Trustees Advance STEM Complex, Approve Budget

Among the topics discussed at the May board meeting: the new STEM facility, the FY 2015 budget and enhanced academic advising. (Photo: Sally McCay)

At its May meeting last week, the Board of Trustees approved funds for completing the architectural design of the proposed $104 million STEM (science, technology, math and engineering) complex, bringing the project, the largest in UVM history, one step closer to groundbreaking. The board also approved a budget that included a 3.4 percent tuition increase.

The STEM project dominated the board meeting, with discussions taking place in every committee. It also figured prominently in an advance letter to trustees from UVM president Tom Sullivan. 

Provost David Rosowsky laid the groundwork for later discussions with a presentation at the Committee of the Whole Friday morning that featured architectural renderings of the STEM complex from multiple perspectives, along with detailed floor plans of research labs and classrooms and renderings of interior spaces. 

Plans no longer call for renovating Cook Physical Science, Rosowsky said. “As we worked with the architects, it became apparent that the more affordable option was to take down Cook, rather than gut it, skin it, and add a new exterior,” he said. In its footprint would go a smaller building with more useful space. The $4 million cost of deconstructing Cook will be more than offset by the $28 million in deferred maintenance costs the building carries, he said. Cook was built in 1969.

Interim Vice President for Research John Evans took trustees through the space planning process that yielded the floor plans in the presentation, an unusually collaborative exercise involving faculty, students and staff from each of the STEM disciplines. The planning team also visited a number of other research universities with STEM complexes.   

The guiding principles of the process, which took about 100 hours to complete, Evans said, were to “think beyond how we teach and do research today” in the STEM disciplines – making sure the space was flexible enough to meet future as well as present needs – and to create plans that facilitated cross-disciplinary research and teaching.

The board formally approved $5 million to complete the design and permitting of the complex, adding that sum to the $2 million it had approved at previous meetings.

To cover the $7 million total, the board also approved a new funding mechanism: a Capital Project Prefunding Account. The account, capped at $10 million, will be used to pay for preliminary work on a project, like the STEM complex, that hasn’t officially received board approval and isn’t yet funded. Once the project receives approval, the funds will be repaid from debt and non-debt sources. The funds will be repaid quickly and will function as a revolving fund for future projects.

Robert Vaughan, director of capital planning and management, also presented a timeline for the STEM project.

Phase one, the razing of Angell Lecture Hall and the construction of a new laboratory, research and teaching building to take its place, will begin in May 2015 and be completed in December 2016. The deconstruction of Cook Physical Science will begin in January of 2017, with its replacement, a new office and classroom facility, to be completed in June 2018. The renovation of Votey Hall will take place throughout the project’s timeline.

Trustees seemed impressed with the project and its progress to date. 

“This is going to be outstanding,” said trustee and UVM College of Medicine alumnus Richard Gamelli, senior vice president and provost of Health Sciences at Loyola University in Chicago and a surgery professor and research director there. Commenting on the cross-disciplinary emphasis evident in the plans, he said, “Research isn’t a one-off; it’s a team sport. This will be very exciting for people who want to work at UVM, as well as study here.” 

Before the STEM presentation, President Tom Sullivan, in his president’s report, highlighted – among many other recent UVM accomplishments he cited – the glowing accreditation report the university recently received from the New England Association of Schools & Colleges.

“I want you all to know what a great report it is,” he said. “It’s rare to get a report that is so laudatory and ‘clean’ -- without criticism.”  

3.4 percent increase, advising plan

Committee members passed an FY 2015 general fund budget of $309 million that included a 3.4 percent tuition increase, bringing in-state tuition to $14,184 and out-of-state tuition to $35,832. The budget also included an increase of 3.6 percent for financial aid. 

Due in part to last year’s uncertainty about enrollment, resulting in a delay in approving the FY 2014 budget until June, the board also voted to establish a Net Tuition Stabilization Fund of $4.5 million. The fund is designed to buffer the budget process from the uncertainty of tuition revenues, which are preliminary at the time the budget is adopted in May. Funds borrowed against the account will be repaid within two years.

In his provost’s report to the Educational Policy & Institutional Resources Committee, Rosowsky focused on plans to strengthen academic advising across the university, which he called a critical goal supporting “the entire student life experience.”

Jennifer Prue, chair of the Faculty Senate student affairs committee, also presented a comprehensive report on a proposal to create a broader, more holistic and consistent system of advising.

Both presentations stressed that responsibility for excellence in advising rests at many levels, noting especially the need for supporting and rewarding faculty. “Academic advising,” Prue said, “is not just about which course to take. It’s about the whole person. Advisers need to be well informed about what services are available to students so that they can shepherd them through the experience.”

Among the steps the student affairs committee report proposes is the creation of an advising center to be established near the Career and Experience Hub in the Davis Center. The center would focus on special advising needs, particularly for students who have not yet declared a major, and would integrate career discussions “from day one.”

In other news:

  • The board authorized UVM to spend $10 million to add two steam-powered chillers to the existing central heat/chilling plant, contingent on the successful financing of several future projects, including the STEM complex, that the new system would serve. Adding the chillers, as opposed to installing stand-alone cooling systems in new buildings as they are built, will result in significant construction, equipment and utilities savings. Funding is expected to come from a combination of reallocation of project funds, plant fund net assets, and $3 million from the Green Revolving Loan Fund. The university plans to issue an RFP in the near future to begin the design process. 
  • The committee approved an additional $1.2 million to complete Phase I of the Miller Research Complex, bringing the total cost of the project to $3 million. All funds will continue to come from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) one-time research endowment and gift funds balance to complete the high-priority project, which is part of CAL’s strategic plan.
  • The board approved the designation of the Carse land as a new addition to the university’s nine existing natural areas. The land, donated in December 2013 by the family of Henry Carse, is a 225-acre tract of land in Hinesburg, which, with the involvement of the Vermont Land Trust, will legally and perpetually be protected from development. The Carse land meets all the criteria needed to be designated a UVM natural area, containing features of significant ecological value for teaching, research and conservation purposes.
  • The board approved a resolution to create a new minor in music technology and business in the Department of Music and Dance in the College of Arts & Sciences.
  • The board authorized UVM to enter into a comprehensive new affiliation agreement with Fletcher Allen Healthcare and to negotiate real estate and related transaction agreements with Fletcher Allen to accommodate construction of a new inpatient facility. 

Read the complete consent agenda of all actions approved at the May board meeting