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Originally published: 2013-03-25 10:09:20
Last modified: 2013-03-25 10:09:20

ASU exploring public-private deal to fund Health Sciences building

by Anna Oakes

Appalachian State University is exploring the possibility of a public-private partnership in efforts to secure funding for a new College of Health Sciences building, ASU staff announced at an ASU board of trustees committee meeting Friday.

Founded in July 2010, the College of Health Sciences consists of more than 15 programs of study, including the departments of Nursing, Social Work, Communication Sciences and Disorders, Nutrition and Dietetics, Health Care Management and Health, Leisure and Exercise Sciences.

The new college does not have a dedicated building. In spring 2012, Appalachian Regional Healthcare System pledged to donate a tract of land on Deerfield Road for the building if the university receives funding for the facility by the end of its ongoing capital campaign, which is scheduled to conclude Dec. 31, 2014.

"There is some pressure for us to move on this. There's a time frame that we have to operate within," said Loren Baumhover, the chancellor's chief of staff.

In the past, ASU has received state budget appropriations to construct new academic buildings on campus. But ASU staff emphasized that nothing is certain in today's climate.

An estimated $80 million construction cost would require a $4.5 million annual debt service payment.

"It's not going to come from the state, we believe," said Randy Gonzalez, associate vice chancellor for development and alumni relations.

Gonzalez said the university has engaged in conversations with national contractor Balfour Beatty Construction about opportunities for a public-private partnership. Such a project could potentially include retail, hotel conference facilities, student housing and  parking, he said.

"We are seeing a lot of institutions move toward public-private partnerships to get capital projects done," he said.

Potential challenges include legislative obstacles and limitations on the property, he noted.

"I think it's incredibly important for us to pursue this," said Sam Powers, president of the ASU Alumni Association. He encouraged ASU to bring the town of Boone and Watauga County to the table.

Greg Lovins, interim vice chancellor for business affairs, said he and vice chancellor for external affairs Susan McCracken recently had lunch with Boone Town Council members to keep them informed about the effort.