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Colleges aim to clear planning hurdles as they await bond funding

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Administrators at William Paterson University were planning a facility expansion when the $750 million bond issue came.
Administrators at William Paterson University were planning a facility expansion when the $750 million bond issue came.

When the Building Our Future Bond Act passed with voters on Election Day last year, most schools knew what they wanted to build using the funding, but few were far along in having the details.

At William Paterson University, though, the $750 million bond issue came at a time when administrators already were planning a facility expansion.

President Kathleen Waldron said when she arrived at WPU in 2010, she took a "lay of the land" survey of what the school needed, which led to a master plan being created in 2012 and architects being hired to complete a primary analysis for a $30 million nursing education building.

The master facility plan is one of the several requirements for funding laid out in regulations issued last week. Once voters approved the referendum, the master plan was sent to Trenton, and Waldron said architectural plans for the new building will be ready in a few months.

Waldron also said William Paterson will fund the 25 percent match without issuing more bonds.

"We're going to self fund because we just issued a bond for the parking garage last fall, and I don't want to incur more debt," Waldron said. "Some universities are going to have to issue bonds, depending on the size of their projects, because 25 percent is a big chunk of change."

Because the school planned to construct new facilities before the bond act was created, William Paterson had already been putting aside building reserve money, she said.

Few other schools are as prepared as William Paterson. Joe Cardona, interim vice president of university relations for Rowan University, said administrators at New Jersey schools are still determining what makes a project shovel ready, as "very rarely do schools spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on plans and everything, and just put it on the shelf waiting for some day."

At Rowan, a new building for the engineering school and a new building for the business school were included in facility plans made in 2006, but the state must consider whether that plan is up-to-date enough to qualify, as it predates Rowan taking over the School of Osteopathic Medicine and the university realignment partnering Rowan and Rutgers on health sciences.

Cardona said the priority project for Rowan is a 50,000-square-foot building for health sciences in Camden for the combined health sciences school, but issues like Rutgers' portion of the funding still need to be resolved.

"We don't know that yet — we're working all of those angles," Cardona said of Rowan's funding plans.

In terms of funding for construction at the state's community colleges, New Jersey Council of County Colleges spokesman Jacob Farbman said, when the act was voted in, the presidents and board chairs of all 19 member institutions sat down and decided how the $150 million dedicated to community colleges would be distributed.

Farbman said, despite being prepared for the amount in funding the schools will receive, figuring out how to match the 25 percent is "still in the planning stages" for most of the community schools.

But extended planning won't cost any school its share of funding, Cardona said.

"Everybody across the entire state will be ready. There won't be a school that will be caught flat-footed and won't have a project ready," he said.

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