By Andy Metzger
State House News Service
BOSTON -- State higher-education officials plan to vote later this month on whether to allow dorm proposals at any of the state's 24 community college campuses.
"The discussion at this point is fairly theoretical. It's not about any actual developments. Whether or not the general idea of residential at community colleges is one that the board is open to considering," Commissioner of Higher Education Richard Freeland told the News Service.
If the Board of Higher Education votes in favor of considering dorms "it opens the door, and then a particular community college can confer with a specific proposal."
Asked if he had a recommendation, Freeland said, "I'm formulating one." He declined to elaborate.
With a slew of bond bills that could become law this year, the House Committee on Bonding, Capital Expenditures and State Assets conducted a review of how a 2008 bond bill was spent in higher education and other areas Wednesday.
Freeland said the 2008 bill had been the "first exclusive bond authorization for the campuses since 1995," and said it had gone toward projects either under construction or complete, including a new science building at Bridgewater State University, a new library for Mass Maritime Academy that features a "highly sophisticated ship's bridge simulator," and a building expansion at Greenfield Community College.
"Every one of our 24 campuses is going to get some major project by the time we're done," Freeland told the committee.
Chairman Antonio Cabral, D-New Bedford, questioned whether the state's colleges were using borrowed money for expenditures that should be made from the operating budget, and Freeland said there had been no increase in the spending of capital fund for salaries.
"I haven't seen any significant shift in the pattern. We have been doing it. We continue to do it, and continue to spend too much money that way, on capital projects," Freeland told the News Service.
Freeland also said that about 5 percent of operating budgets are spent on large repair projects that should be paid for out of a capital budget.
While more than a dozen building projects are either under construction or have been completed, many more of the projects funded by the 2008 bond bill are in the master plan, study or design phase, while still others have not yet begun.
Freeland told the News Service that newly completed buildings are the exception on the state's community college campuses.
"If you go to our campuses, you'll see one new building and then a bunch of buildings from the 1970s, and then some buildings that are a lot older," Freeland said.
Freeland said he would present his recommendation to the board next week. The board is set to vote at its June 18 meeting at Middlesex Community College.
Cabral said he might invite community college presidents to testify before the committee in the fall.
"We want to see what's going on with all the authorizations we've done, and how it's been spent," Cabral told the News Service after the hearing. He said the committee would release a report on how the 2008 bonds had been spent.
In her first speech of the new session in January, Senate President Therese Murray called for a "full slate of bond bills" to become law. While the Legislature and Gov. Deval Patrick have differed on whether the state can afford to borrow the full $300 million called for in a recent law authorizing borrowing for local road funding, the House unanimously passed a $1.4 billion housing bond bill Wednesday afternoon.
Asked about the fate of other bond bills in the legislative pipeline, Cabral said, "At this point, I'm waiting for the joint committees, that they've been referred to, to go through their process."