Could set damaging precedent for the future prioritization of higher ed projects
In recent days, it has become increasingly apparent that a growing number of legislators (mostly from within the House) are raising questions and concerns about UT’s top capital project, the West Tennessee 4-H Center known as Lone Oaks Farm.
This is of great concern. The Board of Trustees in their June 2014 meeting approved the project and it was submitted by the Governor as the State’s second highest overall capital project for higher education.
UT Advocates should be concerned that UT’s top capital project is being put at risk. What should concern all other advocates for higher education is the very dangerous precedent of removing or reprioritizing—essentially politicizing—a need-based priority system established over 25 years ago for higher education capital projects.
The West Tennessee 4-H Center will serve as a critical part of UT’s outreach mission. 4-H remains one of America’s most successful youth educational programs, reaching over 168,000 students in Tennessee each year. In addition to hands-on STEM education in biology, agriculture, and other sciences, the program also arms youth with critical soft skills needed to stand out in today’s workforce.
The West Tennessee region has been without a 4-H Center since 2009, when the previous facility was closed and sold due to budget cuts and inadequate capital maintenance over a period of many years.
The offer of Lone Oaks Farm as a proposed replacement for the West Tennessee 4-H Center was recommended through an exhaustive selection process last year. The more than $30 million dollar, 1,200-acre property is being made available to the University for approximately $16 million. It is expected to be self-supporting through the revenue it generates from programs and educational meetings, events, and workshops that will take place at the site. Lone Oaks Farm comes turn-key ready—as opposed to the 19 other sites reviewed throughout West Tennessee for the same purpose.
But funding for the project could be in peril. Advocates can help support UT and the future of all higher education projects by asking their legislators to support Governor Haslam’s proposal for UT’s highest capital priority, the new 4-H Center.