Campus News

Science Learning Center funding tops legislative priorities

In what promises to be another tight budget year, UGA will seek funding for a number of key priorities during the upcoming legislative session of the Georgia General Assembly, including a proposed Science Learning Center.

The $44.7 million facility planned for South Campus would provide approximately 122,500 square feet of new, state-of-the-art science teaching labs and classrooms to meet heavy enrollment demands, as well as to enhance the quality of instruction. Enrollment in the sciences at UGA has tripled in the last 10 years and current facilities built in the early 1960s are above capacity and no longer adequate to accommodate modern instructional laboratory teaching methods.

“The need for the Science Learning Center is a result of the great progress our state and UGA have made in recruiting more students to the STEM fields,” said Griff Doyle, vice president for government relations. “We simply cannot meet demand with the current facilities.”

The Science Learning Center was included in the board of regents’ 2014 fiscal-year budget recommendation to the governor.

As the board of regents enters a third year of expanding residency programs to address the serious need for physicians in the state, funding for the expansion of Graduate Medical Education will be key. Both St. Mary’s Health Care System and Athens Regional Medical Center are starting GME programs and have benefited from state funding for GME expansion.

“The GRU/UGA Medical Partnership has been a great success. It is graduating its first class in the spring,” Doyle said. “GME expansion is the other piece of the puzzle and is absolutely critical in addressing the doctor shortage in Georgia.”

UGA also will support University System efforts toward passage of HB 516, which would allow USG faculty and staff a one-time opportunity to transfer from the Optional Retirement Plan to the Teachers Retirement System plan. ORP members would have six months to make the decision and would solely assume the financial burden of making the switch.

The board of regents budget request also includes $4.9 million for the Baldwin Hall renovation and annex. This project would add a 10,800-square-foot addition to the current building and renovate the main entrance and other parts of the building interior. The renovation would include a new elevator, making the building fully accessible.

“This is a critical need, and we hope the legislature will consider this request favorably,” Doyle said. “SPIA has grown to more than 1,500 students and is desperately in need of additional classroom space.”

University System and UGA officials also will ask the General Assembly to consider a salary increase for faculty and staff. Due to the significant downturn in revenue during the economic recession, it has been five years since state employees have had a raise. With state revenues beginning to stabilize, there is hope that adequate state funds could be available for a salary adjustment in the 2014-15 fiscal year.