The ECU Board of Trustees approved designs for a new health sciences student center, a 72,000-square-foot facility to serve students on the Health Sciences campus with spaces for recreation, meeting and dining. One of the designs is pictured above. (Contributed image)

ECU Board of Trustees considers resources in tight times

April 25, 2014

ECU News Services

Coping with continuing financial challenges crept into committee and board discussions during the April meeting of the East Carolina University Board of Trustees.

Board Chairman Robert Brinkley said even though the university is facing extraordinary challenges in continuing difficult economic times, it has produced some extraordinary accomplishments as well.

"On the surface, some of the priorities we’re having to identify can seem at odds with our mission — which has always emphasized student access and excellence – especially when there’s talk of pulling money out of some programs.

“But if we aren’t sustainable in what we do, it won’t matter that we have the very best ideas and intentions. Our commitment to sustainability is absolutely in alignment with our mission,” said Brinkley, during the April 25 meeting of the board at the East Carolina Heart Institute at ECU.

The chairman said the university must find the right balance.

“When we created an Honors College and School of Dental Medicine in the depths of the recession, that was somewhat amazing,” he said.
ECU Chancellor Steve Ballard told members of the Board of Trustees that the university has positioned itself to deal with upcoming budget cuts.

In his comments to the board, Chancellor Ballard also emphasized the squeeze on university resources.

“Unfortunately we are anticipating about a 3 percent budget cut (for fiscal year 2014-15), which is about a $15 million additional cut. This will be the second biggest cut in the last seven years. Everyone is committed to doing all we can. ECU has positioned itself to deal with the cuts,” he said.

Ballard appointed the University Committee on Fiscal Sustainability in August 2013 to come up with steps that could help the university deal in part with declining state appropriations while continuing to invest in strategic priorities. In March the committee distributed  a set of short-term and long-term fiscal and operational plans for ECU that include fewer degree programs, fewer administrative positions and fewer low-enrollment classes.

The chancellor referred to the fiscal sustainability report being finalized. “We’re evaluating all academic programs to see where we can create more consolidation, more integration and more centralized services — all for the purpose of saving money. We are not doing these things because we have some grand theory; we have no choice."

He mentioned focusing on revenue generation, possibly through increased enrollment of transfer students. “These cuts and reforms are absolutely necessary moving forward,” Ballard said.

The board also heard from administrators about possible changes by the UNC Board of Governors on the use of campus-initiated tuition for need-based financial aid for students and how that could affect ECU.  

Over the next year, the UNC Board of Governors is expected to study the issue to determine if policy should change or remain the same. ECU Board of Trustees members are concerned about the impact on students and the immediate ripple effect such changes could have on the university.

ECU’s need-based aid from campus-initiated tuition is almost $20 million. In the 2013-2014 academic year, which is not yet complete, ECU has provided aid from this fund to almost 8,000 students – or about 30 percent of the student body. Awards for summer school have not yet been finalized.  

ECU has used the funds to provide access for qualifying students who need financial assistance to attend college.  

“This is an investment in our students that – however you define it – are middle class,” said trustee Deborah Davis. “It’s amazing the impact if a few don’t come (because they can’t get need-based aid)…. The immediate impact ripples through the institution.”

Also, the board approved the building elevation designs for the health sciences student center, which will provide recreational, dining and meeting space for the approximately 2,500 students in the schools housed on the Health Sciences campus.

The 72,000-square-foot facility’s design reflects “one of the biggest goals which is for the students to be able to mingle and allow for cross pollination of ideas,” said Albi McLawhorn of MHAworks-Greenville, who presented to the Finance and Facilities committee. MHAworks is partnering with Holzman Moss Bottino Architecture of New York for the project, he said.

The total project cost for the health sciences student center is $34.1 million, said Bill Bagnell.

The facility has been designed to become the heart of student activities on the health sciences campus; however, any ECU student will have access. A food court will be located on the lowest level. The gym will have basketball courts and room for stationary bikes or similar equipment. Outdoor, covered seating will also be available.

Virginia Hardy, vice chancellor for student affairs, told the group that students on health sciences campus have been asking for a recreation facility. This facility will have approximately 50 percent of its space devoted to recreation.

McLawhorn noted that because the new building will be situated between the School of Dental Medicine, the Brody School of Medicine, and the building housing Laupus Library, the College of Allied Health Sciences and the College of Nursing, it was important for no one to feel like they were looking at the back door.

“We tried to keep an entrance at every frontage that the building has,” he said. “It makes all the students feel like they have ownership.”

Bagnell noted that total cost for the two proposed student centers – one is also planned for main campus along with a 700-car parking deck – will be $156.3 million. Dining, Dowdy Student Stores, Ledonia Wright Cultural Center, parking, student health and student recreation are contributing $27.5 million toward the project; student fees will contribute $125.8 million, he said.

Now that the projects have been approved by the ECU board and the UNC Board of Governors, they must be approved by the N.C. General Assembly. If that occurs, then construction could begin in May 2015 for both projects, Bagnell said.

In other business,

  • The board approved the pending purchase of four residential rental properties from the ECU Real Estate Foundation, which expects to close on the properties in June. The four properties – 404 S. Jarvis, 405 S. Summit, 407 S. Summit and 409 S. Summit – are adjacent to the Dail House property, the chancellor’s residence. Total cost is estimated to be $1.16 million.

  • New officers and members were appointed to the ECU Board of Visitors for 2014-15. New officers are Angie Moss '97 '98 of Raleigh, president. She is investment director of UNC Management Co. Inc.; Reid Tyler ’80 ’83 of Raleigh as vice chair, who is partner/owner of Harty Real Estate; Mark Garner ’77 of Greenville as secretary, who is vice president/co-owner of Rivers & Associates Inc.

  • Approved the following as members in the Class of 2018 for the Board of Visitors: Walter Cates of Roxboro, David Fisher of Charlotte, Julie Metz of Goldsboro, Bob Parker of Winston-Salem, Brian Brown of Greenville, Philip Rogers of Alexandria, Va., Phil Dixon of Greenville, Linda Thomas of Greenville, Paul McArthur of Charlotte, Jason Poole of Fayetteville, Michael Aho of New York, NY, Lance Metzler of Reidsville, Debbie Harris Rollins of Murfreesboro, Linda Hofler of Greenville, Chris Johnson of Smithfield.

  • Approved the name change for the ECU Program STEPP as a result of a gift of $942,943 from Walter and Marie Williams. The project will now be known as the Walter and Marie Williams STEPP Program. Total personal and extended support from the Williams's (including family and company gifts) now is at $1,124,943.

    STEPP stands for Supporting Transition and Education through Planning and Partnerships, and has been housed in the College of Education at ECU since its inception in 2006. Administrators offer academic, social and life skills support to a select number of students with ADHD or learning disabilities in reading, writing or math.