The Washington State Legislature approved $70 million for the renovation of Western’s Carver Gymnasium in the 2015-17 capital budget passed on Tuesday, June 30.
The legislature also passed a $32.8 billion operating budget on Monday, June 29, which includes a tuition decrease for students and pay increase for university employees.
The Carver Gym renovation project has been the top funding request by Western for the past three biennial budgets. The legislature approved of $64 million of state funds and $6 million from other sources for the project, and Western will carry out renovations on the building that will begin this summer and is set to be completed by spring 2017.
“Western will take out $6 million in debt and pay it back over a set term yet to be determined,” said Paul Cocke, director of communications at Western. “Typically, the term can be 10-20 years.”
During construction, commencement ceremonies will be held in the Performing Arts Center instead of Carver, and men’s and women’s basketball games will be played in Whatcom Community College’s gym until construction is complete, Cocke said.
“The university has relocated occupants of the building. Carver is now closed,” said Paul Cocke, Western’s Office of University Communications and Marketing director.
Also included in the state’s operating budget is a reduction in tuition for resident undergraduate students and increased pay for state employees.
Beginning this fall, students will see a 5 percent reduction in tuition, with an additional 15 percent reduction added on in fall 2016. With the approved budget, this is the first time in the state’s history that tuition costs have reduced for resident undergraduate students with the approved budget, according to a recap of the budget in Western’s Legislative Review.
“Resident undergraduate students and their families will benefit from tuition reductions contained in the budget,” said Linda Teater, director of Western’s Budget Office, and Rich Van Den Hul, Western’s vice president for business and financial affairs, in a press statement. “During the recession, tuition increases were dramatic as budgets were cut. We are extremely pleased to see that trend reversed, to the benefit of our students.”
Recent Western graduate Katie May said reduced tuition is important and lower costs can help level the playing field in terms of access to higher education for students.
“It will create a lot less stress on students,” May said. “I think everyone should get more of an equal opportunity for schooling if they work hard for it.”
Due to tuition being lowered, funding to financial aid programs such as the State Need Grant and the College Bound Scholarship has been reduced.
Competitive compensation adjustments have been made for state employees in the operating budget for the first time since 2008, which will mean an increase over the average compensation for Western employees by 3 percent in 2015-2016, and an additional 1.8 percent increase in 2016-2017. This competitive compensation uses what is known as a salary survey, which is a tool to determine the average compensation of a job, and then will make adjustments in pay based on those results.
The budgets took three months longer to pass than the regular legislative session, which ended in April. An additional three special sessions were needed to come to an agreement. If a budget had not been decided, the state would have gone into a partial shutdown, temporarily closing many state-run operations and laying off thousands of state workers until an agreement could be reached.
At the end of their press statement concerning the operating and capital budgets, Teater and Van Den Hul thanked those who were involved throughout the legislative process.
“There has been a remarkable level of support and appreciation for Western in the legislature and that is due in no small measure to the tremendous efforts by Western administrators, faculty, staff, students, unions and many friends and supporters,” Teater and Van Den Hul said.