Sunday, January 16, 2000

Requests juggled at NKU

School scales back for now

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        FRANKFORT — With a lean budget facing state lawmakers, Northern Kentucky University officials have significantly scaled back the school's request for money to develop a regional worker training center.

        The strategy allows NKU to focus on what it considers its more vital funding need, a $7.2 million increase in the benchmark funding allocation the university receives every two years from the state.

        Lawmakers say NKU is taking the right approach.

        “The benchmark funding has to be NKU's priority over everything else,” said House Majority Caucus Chairman Jim Callahan, D-Wilder, a longtime member of the powerful House budget committee.

        NKU, with the backing of an area leadership group called the Northern Kentucky Consensus Committee, was originally seeking $12 million from the General Assembly to develop and build the Metropolitan Education and Training Services Center, or METS.

        But with money tight this year in Frankfort and area busi nesses anxious to get the worker training facility off the ground, NKU is now asking for just $700,000 for the METS center.

        So instead of seeking the millions of dollars needed to build the center, NKU hopes to get $700,000 to lease a building, probably near the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Airport in Boone County, where METS can be located.

        “We just feel that this is the best route to take in our long-range plan for METS,” Joe Wind, NKU's assistant vice president of government and community affairs, said last week in Frankfort.

        “It takes four or five years to get a building built with state money, because often you have to go through two (legislative) sessions or more to get the funding,” Mr. Wind said.

        “But the business community in Northern Kentucky and Greater Cincinnati is ready to roll with METS, so we're going to ask for money to lease a building and get the project going,” he said.

        NKU is also asking for $1 million to pay for planning and designing the renovation of the university's old science building. A new $38 million science building, which the legislature funded two years ago, is under construction on the Highland Heights campus.

        The school also wants $12 million to replace its 28-year-old power plant.

        NKU officials and lawmakers admit getting money for those two projects may be hard given that the state is facing a budget deficit of up to $30 million over the next two years.

        But Mr. Patton has told legislative leaders the $7.2 million in benchmark funding and the $700,000 for METS will be in the budget he is scheduled to present to legislators on Jan. 25.

        The budget is also likely to include $10 million for a Northern Kentucky community and technical college building, a project strongly supported by NKU.

        The benchmark funding, the community college money and the METS project have also been recommended by The Council on Postsecondary Education, the oversight board for higher education in Kentucky.

        NKU officials say they can't overstate the importance of the benchmark funding.

        “The money is so important because it puts dollars into our base of operations permanently,” Mr. Wind said. “We'll receive that money every two years if the legislature approves it.”

        The funding will help NKU, which has a budget of about $80 million, attract more and better instructors and help put the university on par with the money other state-funded universities in Kentucky receive.

        Mr. Wind said NKU President Dr. James Votruba has called this legislative session the most important for NKU since the university's creation.

        The Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, as well as the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, are supporting NKU's funding requests, said Steve Stevens, director of government affairs for Northern Kentucky's chamber.

        “If we boost NKU and we get the METS program going, then we help the whole area grow. And we help solve some of our problems with a tight work force because we are training workers for the kind of jobs employers in our area need,” Mr. Stevens said.

        Mr. Wind stressed that even while the funding request for METS has diminished, the university's commitment to the project has not.

        “We can get METS going a whole lot quicker by leasing a building instead of waiting to build one,” he said.


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