BOISE – Despite Idaho’s budget crunch, a proposal to spend $4.3 million to renovate Seiter Hall at North Idaho College is still in the state’s spending plans, and it may well be funded next year.
“It should stay, because NIC is short of classroom space,” said Rep. Frank Henderson, R-Post Falls.
Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Post Falls, said it might cost as much as $12 million to rebuild the structure. “So if we can remodel that for a third of the price, it’s great for our community,” he said.
The Coeur d’Alene community college wants to remodel the 1970s-era building into modern classrooms for its growing student body.
“The buildings don’t know we’re in a recession,” Tim Mason, administrator of the state Division of Public Works, told legislative budget writers Wednesday. “A year from now the things that are wrong with the buildings will still be wrong, and they’ll be worse.”
The budget proposal for the state’s Permanent Building Fund, which covers construction, maintenance and repair of state buildings, has been scaled down significantly for new construction. But Mason said the fund’s advisory council still supports maintenance and repair work.
The division has dropped plans for a new maintenance shop building for the Department of Correction in Orofino and a major expansion at the Idaho State Historical Museum.
Other than general maintenance and repair work, only three specific projects remain in the state’s building proposal for next year: the Seiter Hall renovation; $2 million toward University of Idaho efforts to repair the Kibbie Dome; and a $312,000 land purchase for the Department of Lands in St. Maries, where a state-owned $1.1 million building is now on land leased from the city. The lease, Mason said, has a condition: “If they don’t buy it by June of 2010, they have to vacate and either take down their facilities and get them off the land, or just leave it.”
With the economic downturn, bids and costs are lower, Mason said, and it’s a good time for the state to make repairs and perform maintenance, if it can.
Lawmakers won’t make the final call until they set the state’s budget, a process that starts Feb. 23.
Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, said he thought there was “a decent chance” the Seiter Hall project could win approval, but he added that lawmakers never expected to pull back the museum project, which last year was approved for $5 million in funding. Lawmakers withdrew the money after state revenues slipped.
House Appropriations Chairwoman Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, told Mason, “We’re in quicksand. We don’t jerk new building money lightly, nor do we allow new buildings to start when it may mean people would be laid off from schools or … (go on) food stamps. … It’s a tough dance we’re doing.”