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October 24. 2013 8:51PM

UNH committee OKs UNH stadium improvements

DURHAM — Funding for improvements to the University of New Hampshire football stadium were included among $8 million in projects funded with state capital appropriations approved Thursday by the Financial Affairs Committee of the University System of New Hampshire Board of Trustees, the organization said in a release.

In addition to improved lighting and seating at Cowell Stadium, the committee approved $2 million to Plymouth State University for construction of ALLWell North, $1 million to Keene State College for planning related to its Visual Arts and Media Center, a total of $4.5 million to UNH for the stadium and for renovations to McConnell Hall and relocation of the state Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, and $500,000 to Granite State College for the purchase of a facility in Concord.

"We are grateful to the state legislature for this capital funding and look forward to a continued partnership as we work to renovate and upgrade the educational, student life, and research facilities across our campuses," USNH Chancellor Todd Leach said in a statement. "Given the available funding from the state for capital projects, our institutions have identified these particular projects as having significant value and impact in both the short and long term."

"These facilities are all state assets and today's vote allows us to expand and better serve our students and citizens of the state," Tim Riley, chair of the Financial Affairs Committee, said in a statement.

Ground breaking on these projects is set to begin in 2014.

Earlier this week, House Minority Leader Gene Chandler, R-Bartlett, objected to last month's announcement of the stadium project, noting that it hadn't been approved by the university's board of trustees.

According to a Legislative Budget Assistant's Office report, the House version of the fiscal 2014-2015 capital budget appropriated $7.5 million to the university system. The state Senate capital budget appropriated $8 million, but, unlike the House version, specified that $1.5 million of it would be used specifically for "upgrades to Cowell Stadium." Another $500,000 was earmarked for a veterinary laboratory.

When House and Senate negotiators met in committee of conference, Chandler said, the specific appropriation for Cowell Stadium and the vet lab were removed, and, according to Chandler, $8 million was to be spent "at the discretion of the Board of Trustees."

Chandler said he began inquiring about the use of the money after UNH issued a press release on Sept. 13 announcing that Cowell Stadium would have a $1.5 million renovation for the 2014 football stadium using capital budget funds.

"The decision to prioritize this project ahead of $180 million of other requests USNH presented to the governor and legislature earlier this year was surprising. The decision to use the state's capital budget appropriation to fund this project was surprising. And the decision to announce the project was moving forward more than a month before the Board of Trustees would meet to discuss or approve it was deeply concerning," Chandler said earlier this week.


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