Ramapo College plans to spend millions to embark on a capital improvement program that will add scientific equipment, renovate Student Center dining and upgrade campus-wide technology.
The Adler Center for Nursing Excellence and the G-Wing academic building will also be renovated, under a contract the Board of Trustees recently approved with Century 21 Construction.
The nursing center will provide a state-of-the-art facility for students looking to excel in a rapidly changing technological field. Renovations in the G-Wing will upgrade the outdated science facilities, which are falling behind with current technology standards as well, officials said.
The College is borrowing more than $40 million to fund the projects, according to a report in The Record.
College is more than 40 years old, with an aging infrastructure that has required repairs," College spokesperson Anna Farneski said in a statement. "At the same time, we have been duty-bound to meet student demand, yet the state has been unable to provide capital monies for more than 20 years."
Yearly state funding toward higher education in New Jersey has also been steadily decreasing for decades. In Ramapo's 2013 fiscal year budget, 25.5 percent is funded by the state, a decrease from 33 percent in 2004.
But for the first time in more than two decades, a capital improvement fund for higher education proposed by the state government was passed by voters back in the November general election with a 62 percent majority. The fund, called the Building Our Future Bond Act, allocates $750 million to higher-learning institutions and is being divided among institutions whose endowments don't exceed $1 billion, including public research universities, as well as private, state and community colleges throughout New Jersey. According to the act, Ramapo falls under the state college category, which has been allocated $247.5 million in total.
The College has already applied to receive some of this funding during the application window that was open between March 1 and March 25. Of any amount of money that Ramapo receives for capital projects, 25 percent of those funds would have to be matched by the College itself, with the other 75 percent coming from the state. The money the College has been setting aside in reserve since 2006 will cover the 25 percent required match, according to the President's Post, available online.
Current projects underway, including the nursing center, are funded through donations, as well as drawdowns on reserves and the College's capital improvement fee, which adds $1,000 to students' yearly tuition, Farneski said.
"We have a dedicated capital fee that is used solely for capital repairs and we were one of the last N.J. state colleges to implement one," said Farneski. "It was phased in over several years to lessen the burden on our students and their families."
"I guess it's only inevitable though," said senior Christina Ferrante. "With the lack of state funding, if that's what Ramapo has to do to make improvements on campus, then so be it."
Ramapo's finances are in good standing after the College recently re-financed its outstanding bonds to take advantage of lower interest rates to reduce the cost of the outstanding debt, which currently stands at about $283 million, according to Moody's Investors Service. The ratings service gave the College a rating of A2 with a stable outlook. Standard & Poor's gave a rating of A with a stable outlook as well.
The proposed projects that Ramapo is seeking state approval for include:
- Renovation of portions of Academic Complex wings A, B, D and E
- Renovation of the George T. Potter Library
- More G-Wing upgrades, including scientific equipment
- A general campus-wide technology infrastructure upgrade
- Renovations to Student Center dining
- The rearranging and renovating of the Copy Center and Public Safety offices to accommodate a new Academic Commons.
"I think all of these projects are needed and would be great for the school," said junior Richard Sorce. "Especially the Student Center dining because it's always packed and tough to have lunch in the hour period between classes. It would have the best impact right away."
The State Legislature is expected to vote on the list of approved projects before the July recess.