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Trustees discuss academic quality, capital plans

The Ohio University Board of Trustees took a close look at both the educational core and the physical infrastructure of the University at meetings yesterday and today on the Lancaster campus.

Dennis Irwin, dean of the Russ College of Engineering and Technology, described the process by which programs in his college are accredited at the Academics Committee Thursday. He also shared information about the college's approach to strategic planning and how it supports the quality of the student experience and the vitality of research work.

Executive Vice President and Provost Pam Benoit provided an overview of recent general education efforts, which was followed by a report from the 1804 General Education Task Force. The task force members examined national best practices for pedagogy and assessment and reviewed different general education models.

Benoit said that the task force will gather feedback from other important constituent groups, including the University Curriculum Council and the Student Senate Academic Affairs Commission, before completing its report.

Benoit concluded her discussion of academic quality by examining aspects of the University's dashboard relating to the student-faculty ratio and undergraduate headcounts.

She explained each measure and described the ways in which they were helpful in understanding whether the right conditions exist at the University to promote academic excellence.

Resources Committee

The Board also had in-depth discussions about planned major capital improvements.

Steve McAdams, an associate with RMF Engineering, Inc., presented an update at Thursday's Resources Committee meeting about plans to replace the Lausche Heating Plant, a project Board members had approved as part of a $977.5 million six-year capital improvement plan (CIP) at their November meeting.

The current plant is reaching the end of its useful life and does not have the capacity to handle the University's growing infrastructure needs. The University has made the decision move away from the use of coal and toward a more environmentally friendly energy source, both because of the institution's commitment to sustainability and because of pending, more stringent EPA emissions regulations.

McAdams explained that, after analyzing several options, the recommended plan involves upgrading Lausche in two phases so that natural gas will be the University's primary fuel by 2015.

The switch to natural gas will increase annual fuel costs from $2.8 million to $5.9 million, but the installation of energy efficient combustion turbines that generate electricity on-site should offset that by providing a cost savings of about $3 million per year by 2025. It will also reduce carbon emissions by 89,000 tonnes compared to 2010 levels. 

The committee tasked with planning the heating plant replacement – with members from both the University and the city – is now exploring options for funding the project, estimated to cost about $91 million. These include federal and state grants and incentives as well as possible public-private partnerships with government agencies, for-profit entities and third-party service providers.

Associate Vice President for Facilities Harry Wyatt also updated the Board on the University's progress in planning a $33 million Performance Contract Initiative.

The initiative calls for selecting a contractor to implement major energy conservation projects on campus that have a guaranteed 15-year payback. These will help the University meet both institutional and state targets for sustainability and help to address OHIO's deferred maintenance backlog.

The University will present the finalized project plans to the Board for approval at its April meeting.
Associate Vice President for Finance Mike Angelini went on to provide a detailed picture of the University's finances with an updated Six-Year Sources and Uses report. This included a snapshot of how resources would be utilized and how the expenditures associated with the CIP could affect the institution's cash flows. 

The still-preliminary figures will be updated and reviewed by the Board going forward to ensure the University stays on strong financial footing.

In other business, the Board of Trustees approved:

  • a resolution authorizing the University to develop construction documents, receive bids and award construction contracts for South Green catwalk repairs, South Green Front Four Patio repairs and residence hall exterior painting for several halls on East, South and West greens.

  • a resolution to change the name of the Technical Studies Building on the Chillicothe campus to the Technology and Business Development Center.

  • a resolution to name the lower-level lounge on the first floor of Baker University Center the Bobcat Student Lounge.