Boise State pushes for a new fine arts building

Boise State's decadelong construction boom is coming to an end

broberts@idahostatesman.comJune 16, 2013 

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Boise State University has poured nearly $300 million into new campus buildings since 2004 and helped shape the school as a technology-based, regional research university.

But now, the school is bumping up against its capacity to sell construction bonds.

Only two structures are left in the school's plan: fine arts and science.

After constructing research, sports, parking and housing structures, the school is pushing for a 90,000- to 120,000-square-foot building to bring its fine arts program under one roof. The structure would face Capitol Boulevard sitting between the Micron Business and Economics building to the south and the John B. Barnes Towers to the north.

The estimated cost of the building is $35 million. Boise State hopes to pay for it through the state's permanent building fund, sale of construction bonds and private financing.

School officials don't have a final design of the building yet from architectural firms LCA in Boise and HGA in Minneapolis. But the new fine arts center will likely be U-shaped with the art gallery facing onto Capitol, said Richard Young, art department chairman.

Boise State is exploring the possibility of a gift from a "significant" art collector who lives out of state, said university President Bob Kustra. He declined to name the person, but said if it happens, the building could be expanded.

TWO REASONS FOR AN ART BUILDING

Boise State's decision to find a home for fine arts is rooted in two needs: one practical and the other, like art itself, somewhat ethereal.

The university's fine arts program is scattered throughout five buildings across campus, including an old Boise School District elementary school, taking up about 40,000 square feet, Young said.

Quarters are cramped. In the metal works classrooms, the tapered tips of a slender anvil are covered with tennis balls so people don't hit them as they squeeze through narrow aisles.

Security also is a problem. Thieves have rappelled from the art department's second floor into an atrium-style gallery and stolen faculty artwork, Young said.

Boise State's art program also lacks some of the up-to-date basics needed to create art. It doesn't "have adequate ventilation for the types of processes we engage students in," Young said.

A new building would provide students with state-of-the-art equipment such as 3-D visualization technology to build models of their work, or to create the work itself, Young said.

LINKING TECHNOLOGY WITH HUMANITY

Beyond the practical, a new fine arts building at the gateway to Boise State would mesh humanities with the school's technological emphasis, Kustra said.

"We have students coming to us who are more connected to technology than ever before and we live in a valley that is more connected to technology and we think it is very important that we connect with our humanity," Kustra said. "This building really gives us a chance to explore who we are as a people."

Kustra envisions a building that's more than a collection of classrooms and studios. He'd like to see large screens where visitors could take virtual tours of the Louvre or the British Art Museum.

But it also must be a place where the school can provide instruction for the department's 600 art majors and the 1,000 students who take art classes.

"We graduate art majors - some in graphic arts where there is a significant corporate demand," Kustra said. "We graduate students who are employable."

FINDING THE MONEY

Kustra's art house dream still has to run the financial obstacle course.

Boise State intends to seek help from the state's permanent building fund in the fall for about $10 million. The university will face plenty of competition for those dollars.

The building fund typically gets $150 million in requests each year with only about $40 million to dole out, said Tim Mason, administrator of the Idaho Department of Public Works.

The University of Idaho will ask for $2.5 million from the fund this fall to help with work on a proposed $50 million, 70,000-square-foot science building.

The building fund advisory council will make its recommendations this fall and send those to Gov. Butch Otter to consider for his budget for 2013-14.

In addition to state funding, Boise State hopes to raise $10 million to $12 million privately and sell bonds for about $15 million.

Students, whose BSU tuition rose 62 percent over the past eight years, pay a portion of the bonding cost through a $242 per-year fee for campus construction.

BONDING CAPACITY

Boise State has about $60 million left in bonding capacity before bond rating agencies are likely to raise concerns about the capacity to keep borrowing, said Jared Everett, interim associate vice president for campus planning and facilities.

If the university puts $15 million into bonding for the fine arts building, that will leave $45 million before it runs up against its bonding limitation.

Boise State owes $234 million in outstanding bond debt. Its payments last year totaled $17.6 million.

The university's last item, the proposed science building, is expected to cost $60 million and would be built some time in the next five years.

Bill Roberts: 377-6408, Twitter: @IDS_BillRoberts

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