MARCH 10, 2004

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Capital bonds needed to meet record college enrollments

It’s been nearly 12 years since the last capital bonds were issued to construct and renovate buildings on Oklahoma’s public college and university campuses. Since that time, a tremendous strain has been put on the infrastructure of those institutions that now serve more than 228,000 students annually.

The Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education put their stamp of approval recently on such a plan that, if OK’d by legislators and the voters, could provide the state system $500 million for capital improvements.

Officials say the infusion of capital is sorely needed.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court struck down the $175 million bond issue last June that was passed by the 2000 Oklahoma Legislature. The bill included $30 million for capital projects within the state system. The court ruled that the bill did not properly identify the projects as required by the state constitution, although the higher education projects were deemed legitimate and clearly defined. Legislative leaders and higher education officials appealed the ruling, which justices rejected last September.

The last time the state system benefited from a bond issue was in 1992 when more than 70 percent of voters gave their approval to a $350 million bond issue, which included $258 million for higher education. While some higher education institutions have managed some capital improvements through private fund raising and other sources, most campuses have been trying to make do with increasingly crowded and overburdened facilities.

“Getting our college and university campuses up to speed is critical for the state system and for Oklahoma in general,” Chancellor Paul G. Risser said. “All of our institutions have had various capital improvement projects on hold for a while. Over time, they can begin to negatively affect our institutions, the students and eventually our economy. So, obviously this situation must be addressed soon.”

Risser said that unlike the 2000 bond issue that included funding for just a handful of colleges and universities, this bond issue will include at least one project for each of the state’s 25 public institutions.

Contact: Ben Hardcastle, 1-405-225-9346