No funding for biotech building; nursing center gets $31.6M

Although the university’s top capital budget item —  a $57.1 million Biotechnology/Life Sciences Building in Pullman — failed to gain legislative approval, the state did provide funding for several other major projects in its final compromise capital construction budget, approved on April 21. Plus, there appears to be strong support for the project in next session or biennium.

Lack of funding for the Biotech/Life Science building project “is is a major disappointment not only to university researchers, but also to many legislators,” said Karl Boehmke, executive director of planning and budget. “Leaders in both the House and Senate made it clear that the bio-technology building would be the first priority for the next budget. 

“That is unusual and means that, although our progress is delayed, it is not a message that the state wishes to stop the development of our bio-technology complex. Efforts to secure funding for this building had great support from our regional campus leaders and the delegations from those regions, especially Spokane.” 

However, many great projects were funded, including $114 million for important new projects in Spokane, Tri-Cities, Vancouver and Prosser.

Most notably, the final budget settles ownership of the new $31.6 million Riverpoint Nursing Building, a project requested by WSU but awarded by the state House of Representatives to Eastern Washington University. The final budget gives ownership of the Spokane building to WSU as the state Senate had proposed. Construction can now be underway next year.

The Washington Biotechnical and Biomedical Association, the Washington Association of Wheat Growers, the Spokane Regional Chamber of Commerce, Avista Corporation, and the City of Spokane were among key interest groups that continued lobbying for the Pullman building even though it did not show up in House and Senate versions of the capital construction budget.

House Republicans virtually made the building a crusade late in the session as Rep. Fred Jarrett, R-Federal Way, made strong challenges on the House floor to try to add the project. Late in the session, an alternative funding proposal appeared to have the support of Senate leaders including Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, and Sen. Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, who leads capital budget discussions for Senate Republicans. The proposal was also worked by Gov. Christine Gregoire’s negotiating team. House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, told WSU that he too was supportive of the concept, after discussing it with House Caucus Chairman Bill Grant, D-Walla Walla. However, the proposal never was accepted by House Capital Budget Chair Hans Dunshee, D-Seattle, who had complained earlier in the session that the building was ranked too high on WSU’s priority list and that Southeast Washington had a disproportionate share of capital construction projects with the presence of EWU, Medical Lake, and other government facilities. However, even Dunshee said this week that the WSU Biotechnology project was not “dead” and that he expected WSU would resubmit it in a future legislative session.

The failure of the WSU Biotechnology Life/Sciences Building and the inability of the University of Washington to secure funding for biomedical facilities at South Lake Union in Seattle are major setbacks for observers who felt that it might be a big year for biotechnology and research in the Legislature. The governor’s proposal for a Life Sciences Discovery Fund, which is still expected to pass, has nevertheless hit a snag in the final days of the legislative session as well, stuck in a House-Senate tug-of-war over whether there should be a ban on human cloning research in the bill.

But there was very good news in the final capital construction budget for the largest nursing program in the Northwest, the WSU College of Nursing. The budget provides $31.6 million to Washington State University for a new Riverpoint home for the college as Senate negotiators had advocated. The House had funded the building but suggested that it should be owned by Eastern Washington University, which has some students that take classes from WSU faculty members.

The WSU nursing budget also provides some good news for Spokane Falls Community College, as the budget provides that the community college system will secure control of the old Magnuson building, where WSU nursing program is currently housed, “upon completion of the Riverpoint campus in Spokane.”

To nobody’s surprise, WSU’s second priority construction project, the Tri-Cities Bioproducts Building, received $13.1 million in the final conference committee budget and construction can begin this fall. The building, a joint project with Battelle’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, has consistently been endorsed through every step of the capital construction process and is now ready for construction at WSU Tri-Cities. The building was fully funded in recommendations from the Higher Education Coordinating Board, Gov. Christine Gregoire, the initial Senate proposal, and the initial House proposal. Despite being sited in the Republican-represented 8th legislative district, House Democratic leaders including Dunshee and Chopp made an unusual mid-session visit to Tri-Cities to tour the site with Rep. Shirley Hankins, R-Richland. The state funding for the building is expected to leverage federal dollars. The anticipated federal funding will allow an additional bond issue of up to $11.6 million, leading to construction of a $24 million building at WSU Tri-Cities.

$30.5 million for Preservation Projects

No legislative budgets provided funding for the Pullman wastewater facility or any other major construction projects for Pullman. However, significant funding was provided for so-called “minor works” projects that will largely be spent on the Pullman campus and address issues like, health safety, preservation, equipment and infrastructure. The final conference budget provided $6 million for minor capital improvements where the House budget has recommended $8 million. The conference report reflected other funding levels that the House and Senate had agreed on including $30.5 million for preservation projects, and $2 million for health and safety. The final budget provided $7 million for equipment as the House recommended. The Senate had recommended $8.5 million.

 The compromise budget also approved $10.6 million for the next major building at WSU Vancouver, the student services center. That building, which had not been recommended by the governor, was in both House and Senate budgets. The conference budget also approved pre-design and design projects for Vancouver which were not recommended by the House but were supported by the Senate. The design funding means that WSU Vancouver will have projects on the capital construction list for at least the next six years. Construction will start soon on the student services center. The compromise budget provides design funds for an undergraduate classroom building that could be ready for construction in 2007-2009. The budget provides pre-design funding for an Applied Technology and Classroom building that could be constructed in 2009-2011.

Capital Funding Provided for WSU Prosser. Once again, the WSU Prosser experiment station received a small amount of funding in the capital budget for Phase II of its new building. The final budget adopted the House position of provided $2.8 million that will allow the Center for Precision Agriculture to have new facilities at WSU Prosser.

For more information call: Larry Ganders, Assistant to the President, 360-956-2165