OGDEN -- A new science building for Weber State University shares the top spot in a prioritized list of capital development projects approved by the state Board of Regents.
The Regents approved a $49.4 million budget and the list of building priorities. Both will be submitted to Gov. Gary Herbert for his consideration as he makes his overall recommendation to the Utah Legislature.
"If it's toward the bottom of the list, a building might not be funded," said Pamela Silberman, Utah System of Higher Education communications director. "The top couple are the ones that tend to get funded in a typical year."
In years with a serious revenue deficit, it's possible no buildings will be funded, Silberman said, adding she has seen no indications that this is that type of year.
"Weber State's project is in a strong position on the list," she said.
The prioritized list suggests that, first, $60.9 million in state funds go to a new WSU Science Lab Building and, second, $53.2 million go to a Utah Valley University classroom building.
The next priorities, in descending order, are $11.8 million in state funds for reconstruction of a Snow College Science Building; $60 million for a Utah State University Biological Sciences Building; $20 million for a USU-Eastern Central Instruction Building; $15 million for a Salt Lake Community College CTE Classroom and Learning Service Building; and $1.5 million for a Dixie State College East Elementary School purchase and for land-banking projects.
Silberman said WSU made a strong case of need for the new science building.
"The building currently used is very outdated. There are life-safety risks in case of renovation. There is asbestos. There is not adequate classroom space. Students are crammed into labs, using chemicals and flames."
Brad Mortensen, WSU vice president of university advancement, said the current science lab building was constructed in 1969.
"Science has changed a lot since then," he said. "There is such a demand to prepare the type of students we need, to move the economy forward, in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields.
"We need to produce graduates that will excel in the workforce, and we need to upgrade the facility to accommodate the types of research the professors and students need to do."
Weber State had an enrollment of about 10,000 in 1969 and expects to exceed 26,000 when fall numbers are in, Mortensen said.
The science departments have more majors, and nonscience majors still have science requirements to fill before graduation.
The current building predates stricter seismic requirements, so was not built to be earthquake safe, Mortensen said.
There is no system in place to suppress fires, and the presence of asbestos means, if a pipe begins to leak, asbestos abatement crews must be brought in before simple repairs can be made, Mortensen said.
"And that building has a lot of leaky pipes," he added.
The current science lab building also does not have the electrical capacity to meet the needs of modern laboratories.
Mortensen said Weber State representatives will next present their case on Oct. 2 to the state Building Board, which has the ability to change rankings on the Board of Regents' priority list.
The Utah Legislature's 2013 session, during which a final decision will be made, begins Jan. 23.
Mortensen said if funding for the new science building becomes available, Weber State hopes to construct a 200,000-square-foot building, about the size of Elizabeth Hall.
It would be just to the north of the Stewart Bell Plaza, where WSU buildings 3 and 4 (both built in 1954) currently stand.
Building 3 currently holds WSU's interior design department and Center for Chemical Technology. Building 4 houses mathematics and electronics engineering.
"The new building will be engineered to accommodate not only today's science, but what the future might bring," Mortensen said.
"It will be collaborative, functional and efficient. It will really let students be actively involved in research and integrate what they learn in the classroom with research projects."
But whether the building will be approved in the upcoming legislative sessions remains to be seen.
"We still have a long way to go in the process," Mortensen said. "I feel like people understand the case and want to be supportive, but it will come down to how much money is available."