UNH faces tough questions over $20M 'investment' in sports complex
An artist's rendering of a new $25 million athletic complex, which the University of New Hampshire in Durham hopes to open by the end of next year. (Courtesy)
CONCORD — Gov. Maggie Hassan and top Republican lawmakers are questioning the University of New Hampshire's plan to use $20 million in cash reserves to fund a new $25 million athletic complex at the current Cowell football stadium.
But Senate President Charles Morse of Salem called that move "news to me" and Hassan questioned whether this is the best use of limited resources. Both questioned current tuition costs.
"We worked very hard last year to make in-state tuition affordable for Granite State students. I believe we were very clear in establishing that as a priority for the university system," Norelli said in a statement released by her office. "We look forward to an explanation about how this proposal fits into achieving that priority."
Tuition increase worries
In the fiscal 2014-2015 budget, the university system received $153 million. It also received $8 million for projects in the capital budget over the two years. As a result of the state increase, trustees voted in June to freeze tuition.
"To have reserves for a rainy day is one thing, but to have reserves for a football stadium is a different thing," he said.
Morse said every business should have reserves, "but for them to pledge it for this purpose, I think is a mistake."
"I'm sure they'd have real problems justifying that this would be a priority in the capital budget," he said.
Morse said he is "all for athletics and would be a big cheerleader to make sure they move forward."
Morse conceded that lawmakers have little control over the university's approach.
"I don't know their business model," said Morse. "And that's half the problem with the way government works in New Hampshire. With them being off separate, we don't play in that ballpark.
Chandler added, "It's kind of appalling to me that this is what they are doing in light of increased tuition costs and what it costs a kid in this state to go to the university system. People need to realize how much the football program really costs the state of New Hampshire."
750 students at games
UNH said it attracts about 750 students to Cowell Stadium, which seats about 6,500 but would grow to 10,000 under the new plan. UNH said a new stadium would attract more students to games and to the university as a whole.
Chandler said he does not believe a new stadium will attract more students to the university.
"It may bring more scholarship football players to the university, who get a free ride, at the expense of the kids of New Hampshire having to pay a higher tuition," he said.
"In hindsight, it was one of the biggest mistakes we ever made," he said. "I don't think we can go back."
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