Deal clears way for FLC projects

DENVER - State representatives struck a deal last week that should give Fort Lewis and other colleges money they expected for construction projects by September.

For the Durango college, it means the $20.8 million it expected to rebuild the last wing of Berndt Hall is likely to arrive. The Legislature's budget committee shocked Fort Lewis backers a week ago when it decided to leave the science building out of the state's $23 billion budget.

The House took its initial votes on the budget Thursday night, and it added nearly $120 million for Berndt Hall and seven other construction projects in Colorado - the biggest change representatives made in hours of debate. The money will arrive in September, if the state has funds leftover when it closes the books on the 2013-14 budget year.

Fort Lewis officials support Thursday's action, said Steve Schwartz, vice president of finance and administration.

"Absent the fact that we didn't receive funding and the process didn't go the way we desired, this is the best alternative we can go with," he said.

It's not perfect. The delay until September would back up the start of construction on the two-year project until winter, and if the weather is cold, it might be difficult to set concrete, Schwartz said.

Rep. Mike McLachlan, D-Durango, said he wished the Legislature could have avoided the anguish it caused colleges, but he was still happy Thursday.

Speaker of the House Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, supports the idea and said it's likely the state will have some money left over at the end of the year. He's not sure if there will be enough to pay for every project on the list, but Fort Lewis' No. 2 position bodes well.

The plan was one of 45 amendments to the state budget that representatives considered Thursday. Most of those either failed or will not survive the next two weeks of debate. But senior legislators in both parties support the college deal, so it is likely to pass.

The budget also adds funding for public schools and sends colleges an extra $100 million for operations and scholarships - a historic boost after years of cuts.