Governor's Bond Proposal Would Reshape Colleges

By Chris L. Jenkins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 17, 2008

George Mason University's 40-year-old library would be expanded. The Woodbridge campus of Northern Virginia Community College would complete a classroom building. Its sister campus in Loudoun County would host a new regional collegiate education center.

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine's proposal to borrow $1.6 billion to pay for 75 construction projects at state colleges and universities would help several Northern Virginia schools build facilities or fund additions at their burgeoning campuses. The bond package would have to be approved by the General Assembly this session to be put before voters on the November ballot.

In announcing the package, Kaine (D) said he is hoping to continue work started in 2002, when lawmakers passed a similar bond package for higher education. General obligation bonds are issued with the understanding that the state will repay its debt obligation through taxation or revenue from projects. No assets are used as collateral.

"Education is about economic development," Kaine said at a news conference last month. He added that for Virginia to continue to be strong, the state must keep its higher education community strong. "If we do, things will go extremely well in the commonwealth," he said.

Six of the 75 projects are slated for Northern Virginia.

At GMU, $105 million in bond money would fund renovations and additions in three projects at the school's Fairfax County campus.

The 100,000- square-foot Science and Technology Building II would be renovated, with modern technology installed. The bond would pay nearly $50 million of the cost.

GMU's Krasnow Institute for Advanced Study, which primarily conducts neurological research, would be expanded to accommodate academic functions as well as research. The bond would contribute $5.6 million to the project, which would add 15,000 square feet, including six laboratories. The bond would help pay half the cost.

In addition, the university would receive $50.3 million to help begin construction of an addition to Fenwick Library. It would be the first significant construction project in the building in 15 years, said Tom Hennessey, the school's chief of staff. University officials said the addition is needed to accommodate the school's increased enrollment and programs.

The project would double the size of the library, built in 1967, to nearly 300,000 square feet.

"As you increase the volume of your research, you increase the number of your researchers, and you need specific support to those researchers . . . including extra facilities for researchers, more IT connections and other kinds of support," Hennessey said.

If approved by voters, the bond money would be available to the colleges the following July. Hennessey said the projects probably would be finished by 2012. The projects are in addition to more than $538 million in improvements underway or planned at the university.

Two Northern Virginia Community College campuses would benefit from the package. At the Loudoun campus, which has 9,800 students, $14.3 million would help build a facility where professors from nearby colleges along Leesburg Pike, such as George Mason University and Shenandoah University, could offer undergraduate and graduate classes to expand their reach to students throughout the region.

"It'll be like a one-stop location for a range of student services," NVCC President Robert G. Templin Jr. said.

The bond package would also pay for the final phase of a new building for classrooms and laboratories at NVCC's Woodbridge campus, the system's fastest-growing, with 9,200 students. The bond would contribute $38.2 million to the $50 million project.

"This bond issue was greatly needed, just to keep up with demand," Templin said. The system has had a 10 percent increase in enrollment over the past year, he said.

In addition, Kaine's plan would contribute $23.7 million for a 55,000-square-foot training center at the Woodbridge campus, to help residents who have been laid off or want to change careers gain needed skills.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company