Students step up to foot bill for buildings

Students, faculty and supporters of Nevada State College got some great news last week: The school is launching a $61.5 million construction project that will result in two new buildings by 2015.

The state’s taxpayers got even better news: Money to pay for the project will come from $1.5 million used each year to lease off-campus space, current student fees for capital improvements and a new, student-approved fee of $125 for new buildings.

That Nevada’s fastest-growing college – its enrollment has increased from 176 students in 2002 to 3,200 undergraduates today – needs the additional 100,000 square feet is indisputable. The only permanent structure on its 508-acre south Henderson campus is a single, 42,000-square-foot building used for liberal arts and sciences. About 75,000 square feet of classrooms and office space is leased nearby.

The new construction project includes a 60,000-square-foot building to house the schools of nursing and education, several anatomy labs, more than a dozen classrooms, an auditorium, faculty and staff offices and a media center. A second, 40,000-square-foot building will serve as a student union and have administrative offices.

The school’s 2010 master plan, approved by the Board of Regents and the city of Henderson, calls for 6 million square feet of facilities, housing, recreation fields and supporting infrastructure for 25,000 students. A school of business and a student wellness center are next on the college’s wish list. The college will continue to grow because it’s unique among the state’s four-year institutions: Its professors focus on teaching, not research, and its degree programs, with 24 majors and minors, largely are directed at particular occupations and their skills, such as nursing and teaching.

It wasn’t that long ago that higher education system lobbyists could expect to leave each legislative session with a pile of cash for new buildings. Those days are gone. Students are covering more of the total cost of their instruction, so it’s appropriate that they also foot much of the bill for the buildings they need.

Nevada State College was born out of a political power play more than a decade ago on the promise that businesses and donors would cover the capital costs. Taxpayers were forced to step in. So, as the college proceeds, a cautionary note: State and school officials must make sure the numbers add up and that there are no cost overruns on these buildings. In today’s economic climate, Nevada taxpayers won’t come to the rescue again.

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