General Assembly approves university projects including Commonwealth Stadium

lblackford@herald-leader.comFebruary 20, 2013 

Sports Turf crews prepared the field at Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington in September 2011, just ahead of the first home game of the season. Photo by Pablo Alcala | Staff

Gov. Steve Beshear said he will sign into law Thursday a bill approving several new building projects at state universities, including a $110 million renovation of Commonwealth Stadium and other football facilities at the University of Kentucky.

The Kentucky General Assembly gave its approval Wednesday to House Bill 7, making it the first bill to clear the legislature in 2013.

The measure allows several state universities to bond $363 million for 11 projects, including a $65 million renovation of the Gatton Business School and a new $100 million science building at UK. Those bonds will be repaid with university revenue rather than state General Fund money.

The Senate changed the language of the bill slightly after it approved a committee substitute Wednesday from Sen. Bob Leeper, I-Paducah, which forbids the universities from raising tuition to pay for the projects.

The Senate then approved the measure 36-1 and sent it back to the House for final approval of the altered bill, which happened with a 95-0 vote just an hour later.

Senators did not discuss the bill's merits but argued about prevailing wage, the pay standards that are required for government construction projects, including those for universities.

Sen. Christian McDaniel, R-Taylor Mill, said prevailing-wage requirements add millions of dollars to large construction projects. He had just experienced this issue, he said, when his concrete construction company put in bids for a government project. The bids had to be raised because of prevailing wage, he said.

"We cannot continue to afford this wasteful policy," he said.

Sen. Ray Jones, D-Pikeville, defended the prevailing-wage law as one that promotes a living wage for quality work.

Sen. John Schickel, R-Union, was the only senator to oppose the bill. Schickel later said that university tuition "has been going up, higher than the cost of inflation." If universities have the money for these building projects, they should have the money to rein in tuition, he said.

Lawmakers from both parties have praised the "creative financing" that universities have proposed to pay for the residence halls and student centers included in the bill.

At UK, the athletics department will pay for all of the stadium renovation and $65 million of the science building. The business school renovation will be financed mostly through private donations.

UK President Eli Capilouto called the vote "an important moment in the life of our university."

"It signals that we have the confidence of our state's policymakers as we strive to find innovative avenues to earn our way forward," Capilouto said in a prepared statement. "As importantly, it underscores our commitment to putting our undergraduate and graduate students first in everything that we do — from the classrooms and living spaces that we construct to the research space we design and build to embolden our faculty and better equip us to serve."

Reporter Jack Brammer contributed to this article.Linda Blackford: (859) 231-1359. Twitter: @lbblackford.

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