Mason requests funds from state for Robinson construction

Graphic by Walter Martinez

Graphic by Walter Martinez

Mason is awaiting the decision of the Virginia state legislature on its request for additional funding in the 2014-2016 biennial budget for the planned Robinson Hall demolition and reconstruction.

In the governor’s proposed biennial budget, released this past December, Mason had not received the adequate funding it had asked for from the state to begin the demolition and reconstruction of Robinson Hall. According to senior Vice President of Administration and Finance, Jennifer Wagner Davis, Mason fared no better or worse than any other higher education institution, as the state was concerned with its overall debt limit.

“We actually put [funding for Robinson] in our budget request to the state,” Davis said. “We’ve again asked during the budget markup period that this be moved forward. The budget is unresolved in Richmond…and we’re going back in a discussion session next week.”

Mason’s request for funding for the Robinson construction asked the state to fund the entire project. While some projects do require cost-sharing, in which the university would be required to provide part of the funds necessary in addition to the state’s funds, academic building projects such as Robinson are typically funded in their entirety by the state.

“In terms of the overall budget process, we make requests, the governor comes out with his recommended budget and then there’s a period of time where the legislature looks at the governor’s recommended budget and asks if there are any other amendments,” Davis said. “We submitted another request saying, ‘we like the governor’s recommended budget, with the exception that we think Robinson needs to be added.’”

According to Davis, the deficiencies of Robinson Hall, which include poor lighting, lack of technology and over-crowdedness, are inconsistent with many of the other state-of-the-art facilities that Mason offers. In addition, she says that the reconstruction of Robinson Hall is crucial to match Mason’s enrollment growth trends.

“We want to be able to have state-of-the-art classrooms in Robinson for our growing student body,” Davis said. “A third of all of our classrooms are in that building. On average students graduate between 4-6 years, so chances are, you’re going to have at least one class in Robinson if not multiple.”

In addition, Director of Campus Planning, Cathy Wolfe, says that the costs of deferring necessary maintenance on these buildings may increase if the state fails to provide adequate funding.

“The reality of this is that when you look and see the $45 million deferred maintenance mean, that doesn’t go away,” Richards said. “We’re going to have to spend that money and it ends up getting more and more expensive if we’re not able to take it down and redo a new building. “

While securing funding for Robinson Hall is crucial to beginning the demolitions, the university will first need to begin construction on Academic Seven, which is another academic building project that will be home to the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, and will hold classes that are normally held in Robinson during its construction.

“Academic Seven is ahead in the planning process,” Davis said. “So we would sequence them so we’d finish planning and start construction on Academic Seven and then we’d start the planning and design for Robinson.”

While the requested funding for the Robinson construction will come entirely from the state, Mason is required to produce a fraction of the funding for Academic Seven itself. The funding for Academic Seven was included in the governor’s proposed budget.

“We made a special request to the state that the majority of the funding come from the state…we’ll know as soon as the budget is resolved,” Davis said. “There’s a small piece which is research and we have to fund that ourselves.”

If the request for funding for Robinson does not get approved by the Virginia state legislature in the upcoming weeks, the effort to secure funding would not be over, according to Davis.

“We will redouble our efforts to be very clear to our constituencies, whether it be local legislators, state legislators, governors about the importance of this building…and more importantly explain the consequences of not getting the funding.” Davis said.

However, Davis said that the lack of funding for Robinson was indicative of the state’s debt limit and the recent Medicaid expansion. However, she believes that the university has strong case for receiving the funding.

“We’re growing, which is not consistent with a lot of other institutions in Virginia right now, and we have a lack of space,” Davis said. “So we have a very compelling case to make to the state in terms of why they should invest in us.”