Lawmakers steer $500 million to schools for construction

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida lawmakers on Wednesday approved a $500 million list of school construction and maintenance projects, including $207 million for state universities and $115 million for state colleges.

The Public Education Capital Outlay (PECO) program, which is part of the $83 billion budget agreement, is smaller than this year's $625 million education construction program and does not use any bonding.

The 12 state universities will receive $161 million for construction projects. The largest projects include $19.4 million for Norman Hall at the University of Florida; $16 million for an earth ocean atmospheric sciences building at Florida State University; $15 million for the School of International and Public Affairs at Florida International University; $15 million for the School of Integrated Watershed and Coastal Studies at Florida Gulf Coast University; and $12 million for the Morsani College of Medicine project at the University of South Florida.

The 28 state colleges will receive $77 million in construction projects. The largest projects include $10 million for an allied health center at Hillsborough Community College; $6.5 million for a student center at St. Petersburg College; and $10.4 million for two projects remodeling classrooms, labs and a gym at Miami-Dade College.

The Legislature's budget plan also includes $45.6 million in maintenance funding for universities and $38 million for state colleges.

In the kindergarten through high school system, public schools and charter schools are each slated to receive $50 million in maintenance funding.

A half-dozen small rural counties are in line for $57 million for local school projects, including $19 million to begin building a K-8 school in Jackson County and $10 million to finish the construction of an elementary school in Hamilton County.

The Florida School for the Deaf and Blind in St. Augustine will receive $2.2 million for maintenance work, while Florida public broadcasting facilities will receive $3.1 million.

Among the special projects, the FSU laboratory school in Tallahassee will receive $7.5 million for an arts and sciences building and the city of Hialeah will receive $1.8 million for an education academy.

The construction and maintenance projects are subject to Gov. Rick Scott's review, and last year he vetoed more than $53 million in university and state college projects.

The funding approved Wednesday covers nearly all of the Board of Governors' $124 million request for university construction and maintenance projects. But it did not include $4 million to begin planning a “multi-purpose” building at New College of Florida, a recommendation of the board.

While the PECO funding did address some of the $284 million in “supplemental” projects identified by the board, none of the University of Central Florida's projects --- including a $17 million request for an engineering building renovation --- made it into the new budget.

Lawmakers could have opted to expand the list by relying on bonding, with state analysts identifying a capacity for more than $2.5 billion in PECO bonds, which are supported by the gross receipts tax on utility services.

Although the current year's $625 million PECO program was supported by $275 million in bonding and the Senate was open to some bonding again for next year's budget, the House was firm in its opposition and Scott has rarely embraced more state borrowing.