When the Colorado Legislature’s Joint Budget Committee shocked Fort Lewis College last month by announcing that long-expected funding to complete a renovation of Berndt Hall had not made the cut for next year’s budget, lawmakers and college officials were rightly outraged. The $20 million construction project, in the works since 2010, would deliver a much-needed expansion and renovation of the building’s geosciences, physics and engineering wing and was enthusiastically supported by the state’s Capital Development Committee, which makes recommendations on priority projects. Legislators quickly moved to find a remedy for the JBC’s oversight, and a two-pronged approach could achieve that.
First, the House voted late last month to give FLC the money it needs for Berndt Hall, provided that state revenue increases as expected. That was a welcome reprieve, but the September timeline is problematic because it would push construction into the winter months – a hardly ideal scenario. Then, last week, Senate Minority Leader Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs, received approval from the Senate for an amendment that would give FLC $10 million from a fund in Gov. John Hickenlooper’s office designed to promote advanced industries. Doing so would allow construction to begin this summer as had been expected before the JBC blowup. It is a creative solution that the Legislature should wholly support.
Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, supported Cadman’s amendment that draws on the sound logic that investing in education for physics, engineering and geosciences students will be a boost for advanced industries that the state is committed to attracting. As Roberts said, “I think they are the seed corn for the advanced industries program.”
Cadman’s amendment deftly links the Berndt Hall project to one of the three requirements outlined in the bill that created the Advanced Industries Accelerator Program, which is administered by the state office of economic development. The program can provide funding “for an advanced industry project that builds or utilizes infrastructure to support or enhance the commercialization of advanced industry products or services or that contributes to the development of an advanced industry workforce.” Certainly, the Berndt Hall project passes that test.
The amendment is far from a sure thing and must survive further legislative scrutiny this week as lawmakers move the budget into its final form. Given the resounding bipartisan support, to say nothing of the well-documented need for the Berndt Hall renovation, lawmakers should ensure that the amendment endures in the budget process. From there, Gov. Hickenlooper should support the funding as well, so that Fort Lewis College can begin construction as soon as possible on this much-needed project that will significantly expand the school’s scientific offerings.