Amid Cash Crunch, Edwards Slows Community College Buildings

BATON ROUGE (AP) — A building boom planned to expand and improve Louisiana's community college campuses is being put on hold by Gov. John Bel Edwards, part of his push to tighten the reins on state construction spending.

         More than half the projects on the $280 million list for the Louisiana Community and Technical College System won't be completed for now. Instead, they'll be stalled for an unknown period while the state digs out of its deep budget troubles.

         Louisiana faces stricter limits for the next few years on how much money it can borrow for construction projects because of its financial problems. Edwards has decided he wants to steer the limited money available mainly to port improvements, roadwork and a backlog of deferred maintenance on state-owned and college campus buildings.

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         "I am making the decision not to build new buildings and put them on our college campuses and elsewhere because those new buildings — even though they're new, they're shiny and they're nice — they visit additional operational costs upon all of those universities and community colleges and technical colleges. And quite frankly, they don't have the ability to absorb those costs right now so it just doesn't make sense to do that," Edwards said.

         Edwards' chief budget adviser, Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne, said if a college project did not have a bid locked in place by March 31, it won't move forward.

         The Democratic governor's decision will curb a long-term construction plan approved by lawmakers in 2013 for the community and technical college system, known as LCTCS.

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         The legislation authorized the financing and construction of 29 projects aimed at improving existing campuses' facilities and bolstering worker training around the state, to meet the job demands of industry and to aid economic development efforts.

         LCTCS President Monty Sullivan said of the list of projects, 10 are either complete or underway. He told the House Appropriations Committee the other projects will "not proceed until further notice."

         He said the delays could boost costs.

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         "But more important than that, you're going to lack the workforce facilities that produce the workforce to meet the local demand," Sullivan told lawmakers.

         Among the projects stalled by Edwards are a new River City facility planned in Jefferson Parish for Delgado Community College, a technology and career center planned for Louisiana Delta Community College in Winnsboro and new facilities in downtown Alexandria for Central Louisiana Technical Community College.

         The state was expected to borrow about $250 million for the college system projects, while another $34 million was raised through private donations. Under the legislation, at least 12 percent of the project cost has to be matched with private dollars.

         "It's a real concern about how we're going to go forward and be able to keep the obligation that we have to the communities," Sullivan said, citing the 12 percent match that community leaders raised from private sources.

         Robert Adley, the former senator who sponsored the community college construction project bill, now works for Edwards. He supports a temporary delay in the plans because of Louisiana's financial problems.

         "I'm for those projects obviously. I can tell you John Bel is for those projects as well," Adley said. "I think all of that stuff will eventually get done."

         – by AP Reporter Melinda Deslatte



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