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Patrick urges $2b upgrade of colleges

10-year plan would focus on infrastructure

Governor Deval Patrick, seeking to upgrade the creaking infrastructure of the state's colleges and universities, is proposing to spend $2 billion over the next 10 years to replace outdated structures and build new research facilities.

The legislation, which Patrick will file today, marks a large-scale campaign to improve conditions on the public campuses, which college administrators and many lawmakers say suffer from years of neglect. The money would be split equally between the 15 community colleges and the nine state colleges combined and the five-campus University of Massachusetts system, which has an estimated $2 billion backlog of repairs and renovations.

"This administration is committed to providing our students the highest-quality public education possible, so that they are prepared to compete with their peers across the country and throughout the world," Patrick said yesterday in a statement. "If we ask our students to put forth their best effort to succeed, then we must be willing to invest in the tools to help them, their laboratories, their classrooms, and their libraries."

The proposal calls for $750 million in capital improvements over the next five years and an additional $1.25 billion over the following five years.

The state now spends about 3 percent of its budget for capital projects on higher education. If the legislation passes, that figure would rise to 10 percent over the next five years. The national average over the past three years is about 12 percent.

Supporters of more generous education funding said the increase is long overdue.

"From my perspective, the governor has, to put it bluntly, put his money where his mouth is," said state Senator Robert O'Leary, a Democrat who represents the Cape and Islands and who chairs the Joint Committee on Higher Education.

O'Leary said that campuses are crumbling and that previous renovations have been "built on the backs of students" by raising fees. In anticipation of increased capital spending, the Board of Higher Education plans to eliminate its requirement that campuses provide matching funds for state subsidies. The last 10-year higher education bond bill was a $618 million measure in 1995.

College officials said they were delighted by the investment, although many were caught off guard that the proposal earmarked the bulk of the $2 billion for specific projects. About $658 million would not be designated.

"This is a major project that will modernize our classrooms, labs, our entire science program," said Peter Chisholm, a spokesman for Framingham State College, which would receive $51 million to renovate its science center.

Ellen O'Connor, vice chancellor for administration and finance at UMass-Boston, said the $125 million in Patrick's plan for repairs and new academic buildings was a rare windfall for the Columbia Point campus. "This is a giant leap forward," she said.

Also under the plan: UMass-Amherst would receive close to $300 million for a new science laboratory, new classrooms, and a range of repairs; Bridgewater State College, $88 million to expand and modernize its science center built 50 years ago; and the UMass Medical School in Worcester, $43.5 million for repairs.

Last month, the University of Massachusetts board of trustees approved a separate five-year, $2.9 billion capital plan to improve the conditions at buildings across the system's five campuses. The plan, which assumed a significant increase in state support, would nearly double the system's current level of capital spending.

Dana Mohler-Faria, Patrick's education adviser and president of Bridgewater State, called the proposal unprecedented.

"It's the most comprehensive higher education bond bill ever proposed in this state," he said. "It would mean a tremendous amount to this system."

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