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November 25, 2015

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Higher-ed leaders approve Nevada State College’s campus expansion

Nevada's higher-education leaders on Friday approved construction of two new buildings on Nevada State College's campus.

Nevada State College's student enrollment has surged from 177 students in 2002 to 3,389 students a decade later.

To meet the demands of its burgeoning student body, Nevada State College constructed a 42,500-square-foot liberal arts building in 2008 at a cost of about $24 million, the majority of which was borne by the state.

The four-year public college also leased 52,000 square feet of space, the majority of which constitutes the college's satellite campus in downtown Henderson. Nevada State College pays about $1.5 million per year in lease payments.

However, with student growth expected to continue, Nevada State College wants to consolidate its two campuses – located five miles apart – and to build out its 509-acre main campus, near U.S. 95 and Boulder Highway in Henderson.

"It's challenging to have a split campus," said Nevada State College President Bart Patterson. "We need to create a better student experience."

Nevada State College will adopt a public-private, lease-purchase model to build out its main campus at a cost of about $61 million, with about $36 million coming from student fees – uncommon methods of paying for capital projects in public education.

The Nevada System of Higher Education will lease a portion of the college's campus to a private developer, who will construct two new buildings and lease them back to NSHE for a 30-year term. After both leases expire in 2043, ownership of the buildings will go to NSHE.

The developer, to be determined by a competitive bidding process, will assume the risk of constructing two new buildings at the main campus.

The new facilities include:

• A 60,000-square-foot academic building that will house the schools of nursing and education. The facility includes 15 classrooms, science laboratories, a 100-seat auditorium, a computer laboratory, general areas and faulty offices.

• A 40,000-square-foot student activities and administration building that will house all student support services, such as the admissions, registrar and financial aid offices. The facility also will house executive and administrative offices, student club offices, meeting rooms, study areas, the bookstore, food service and the library.

Nevada State College will pay $3.6 million annually to build out the two buildings. The cost will be funded with $1.5 million in current lease payments, $900,000 in existing fee revenue and a new student fee.

This special building fee of $150 per semester will be charged to students enrolled in four or more credit hours, starting this fall. Financial assistance will be available until 2015 to students in need, reducing their cost by half.

College officials stressed the importance of building quickly, during a time of low interest rates and construction costs. They also argued that other options, such as bonds and state funding, were inadequate for the size of their project.

"We can get a lot more for what we want," Patterson said. "It allows us to build more for less."

The project now goes to the Legislature's interim financing committee for consideration on Jan. 25. The final lease contracts – as well as a final funding plan for public or private financing – will go before the board sometime thereafter.

The project was approved 12-1 with Regent Robert Blakely opposing. Blakely raised concerns about the board and college's ability to pay the lease off over the 30-year contract. He said there were a lot of unknowns with this funding plan, notably if student enrollment would continue to climb as estimated.

Regent Ron Knecht however urged his fellow board members to preliminarily approve the project, saying the final lease contract would be up for a vote in the future.

"This is not an irrevocable commitment," Knecht said. "Nevada State College will be fleshing this out. … This is the time to push forward."

Patterson agreed.

"I feel like this is a marathon," Patterson said. "We're halfway through … this still has a lot of process and Board of Regents review (in the future.)"

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