How Mason pays for campus construction

If funds can’t be raised, tuition and housing costs may go up

By Isabella Lamagdeleine, Staff Writer

With massive construction projects planned for the next several years, Mason administration officials have plans to make sure the university does not overextend itself financially.

The school recently finished building Peterson Hall, a new building to house the College of Health and Human Services. The university also plans to complete the rebuilding and renovating Robinson Hall and the Harris Theater by March, 2022.

“As a public institution, our mission is access,” said Jennifer Davis, senior vice president for administration and finance. “We’ve focused on serving the most amount of students that want to come here and to be able to get a degree that is affordable and high quality.”

Michael Sandler, director of strategic communications, cited the Globe as a prime example of how Mason has changed in order to best serve the community. Originally a hotel and conference center, the Globe was redesigned to serve students as a Living Learning Community, dining hall and classroom space.

“That’s a great example of how the university adjusts and responds to the needs of students [and] the priorities with our budget,” Sandler said. “Everything about that project really talks about us making adjustments that are in the best interest of the university.”

Mason spent $71 million on the construction for Peterson Hall, and plans on spending an additional $113 million for renovation of the Robinson and Harris buildings.

“On very large construction projects, we issue debt,” Davis said, but the school cannot issue debt on its own. Instead, the task is handled by the state of Virginia on Mason’s behalf.

“For example, between Robinson and the utilities, it costs $175 million,” Davis explained. “The state has two options: They can issue us cash, or they can issue us 30-year bonds.”

If money cannot be paid back by the university to its investors through the ways that it raises revenue now, then the costs of tuition and housing could rise as Mason attempts to find new ways to pay the money back.

“If Mason gets too extended, then it starts taxing its own resources,” said Gerald Hanweck, a professor at the School of Business.

He explained that the school uses tuition and fees from students, contributions from specific buildings along with funds generated by residence halls and rental space to pay off its debts.

Currently, Mason principally raises money to pay off its debts through renting spaces to companies like Chipotle and Panda Express, as well as students’ tuition and housing payments. Money given to the school for a specific purpose can also be used, like the $10 million that was given by the Peterson family for Peterson Hall. The university can also receive revenue from the state to fund these projects.

According to Davis, the school must remain affordable, accessible, and focused on student satisfaction and education quality to retain additional students. She explained that Mason will keep housing and admitting students for as long as they can do so successfully.

“If the balance ever tips, enough is enough,” said Davis. “But I think it’s our challenge as a public institution to continue and meet the growing request for our degrees and our faculty, and do that in a smart way.”