The University of Massachusetts Board of Trustees meeting Wednesday on the flagship Amherst campus approved an ambitious building plan for the five campus system. But it comes at time when more and more students are taking classes on a computer, not in a classroom.
The UMass trustees voted unanimously to approve a plan authorizing $3.8 billion for construction and renovations on the system’s five campuses over the next five years. The plan involves 184 projects, including new research labs, renovations to libraries and student housing, improvements to athletics and recreation facilities.
UMass has already spent $2 billion over the past decade on campus construction projects.
Trustee Victor Woolridge of Springfield, who chairs the board’s finance committee said the money for the construction projects will be borrowed with the university’s share projected at 72 percent and the state assuming 28 percent of the costs. He said it should not harm the system’s credit rating.
The construction spending will not impact tuition or mandatory student fees. Trustees voted last June to freeze tuition and fees for this academic year after Governor Deval Patrick and the legislature increased state funding to the university by about $50 million. The state appropriation of $478 million covers half the university’s operating budget for this year.
UMass President Robert Caret has promised to freeze tuition and fees again next year, if the state again contributes half the cost of operating the university.
UMass trustees defended the spending of billions of dollars on campus construction at a time when online education is soaring. The university’s online division, which started in 2001, is one of the largest programs in the country with more than 59,000 enrollments this year.
Trustee Margaret Xifaras chairs the online education committee. She does not foresee a day when the university is exclusively online.
UMass officials continue to look at the feasibility of creating the system’s first ever satellite campus in downtown Springfield. UMass Board of Trustees Chairman Henry Thomas, a Springfield resident,says the launch of the satellite campus is a question of when, not if.
The landlords of four downtown Springfield office buildings have submitted bids to lease space to UMass for the satellite campus. Thomas said he expected the review of the bids to be completed by December.