Auburn’s Board of Trustees accepts record operating budget at Aug. 25 meeting

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Auburn University’s Board of Trustees once again showed a major investment in university employees when the board accepted its largest operating budget to date — $1.715 billion — for fiscal year 2024 at its Aug. 25 meeting.

The budget commits $66.9 million toward employees, or 52.6% of the budget for salaries, wages and employee benefits. The investment includes a 3% merit pool, funds for the recruitment of high-caliber faculty, funds to provide staff with market-competitive salaries, job family and faculty promotions and other salary adjustments, as well as employee benefits.

Kelli Shomaker, senior vice president for business and administration and chief financial officer, said tuition and fees and state appropriations continue to be the university’s leading revenue sources, making up 65.4% of the total budget.

Auburn will receive an additional $26.4 million from the state and $36.6 more in tuition and fees from the previous budget, as well as $26.7 million in restricted revenues, which accounts for $89.7 million of the overall increase in the 2024 budget.

The new budget, which covers all four university divisions, represents an increase of $122.3 million, or 7.68%, from fiscal year 2023. Most of the increase — $113 million — is for the main campus.

Under the proposed budget, 85.2%, or $1.462 billion, is for main campus, with $116.7 million for Auburn University at Montgomery, $72.8 million for the Alabama Cooperative Extension System and $63.3 million for the Alabama Agricultural Experiment Station.

Additionally, the board accepted a proposed 3% increase for tuition and fees at Auburn and Auburn University at Montgomery, as well as a slight housing rate increase at Auburn for 2024-25.

Historic moments

Quentin Riggins presided over the meeting, the first following his appointment as the board’s president pro tempore. He became the first African American to serve in this capacity.

Among the action items for the day, the board accepted a revised budget for the STEM + Agricultural Sciences Complex (STEM+Ag), one of the largest academic projects in university history. The complex will encompass 265,000 square feet between a trio of three-story buildings at a cost of $224 million.

In comparison, the Haley Center is more than 410,000 square feet, the Tony and Libba Rane Culinary Science Center is 164,000 square feet and the Academic Classroom and Laboratory Complex is 161,000 square feet.

The board had granted final approval for the project at its February meeting, establishing a $200 million budget. Based on the two bids received, it became necessary to establish a new budget of $224 million.

University officials considered cutting the project scope to lower the cost increase, but concluded that the savings achieved were not worth the reduction in usable building space and academic capability.

Dan King, vice president for Facilities Management, reiterated that creating the building as planned would be “in the best interest of Auburn University” at the revised cost.

In February, Auburn President Christopher B. Roberts called the proposed complex a “game-changer” for students.

It will provide appropriate space for state-of-the-art wet and dry research labs, principal investigator offices, collaboration spaces, shared lab support spaces and instructional labs for the Departments of Mathematics and Statistics; Geosciences; Biological Sciences; Crop, Soil and Environmental Sciences; Entomology and Plant Pathology; and Horticulture.

The consolidation will allow the university to replace and upgrade STEM-related and agricultural science facilities within the College of Agriculture and the College of Sciences and Mathematics.

Parker Hall will be eligible for demolition once mathematics and statistics is relocated. Moving geosciences from Beard-Eaves-Memorial Coliseum and the four other departments from Funchess Hall will facilitate their eventual demolition.

King noted that if the project scope was reduced to match the initial budget, Parker and Funchess would have to remain standing. Both buildings were built in the 1960s.

In February, King said the new complex would encompass less square footage than the six departments do now, making the STEM+Ag Complex a more efficient and cost-effective use of space.

The complex will be located along West Samford Avenue on the northeast corner of the former site of the Hill Residence Halls. The new home for the College of Education is currently being constructed on the northwest corner.

The $224 million budget will be financed by a combination of Public School and College Authority (PSCA) funds, college reserves and gifts and university bond funding. The cost represents the largest-ever investment in academic infrastructure at Auburn.

The estimated completion for the complex is fall 2026.

The board previously named Goodwin Mills Cawood of Birmingham, Alabama, and Lord Aeck Sargent of Atlanta as the architectural team for the project.

Megan Schofill also represented history at the meeting. The Auburn graduate student recently won the U.S. Women’s Amateur, becoming the first U.S. Women’s Amateur champion in Auburn’s history.

“We are so proud of you,” proclaimed Roberts, who hoped that Schofill’s tremendous golf skills would rub off on him just by standing beside her.

Trustee Bob Dumas said that every day of the tournament, Schofill wore Auburn attire “from cap to shoes.” He claimed that was “why she won.”

In other matters, the board:

  • Accepted a revised budget of $2.1 million for the Parkerson Mill Greenway project. A $1.5 million budget was previously established, but with bids coming in higher than expected, the university requested and received an additional $578,783 in grant funding from the Alabama Department of Transportation to cover the budget increase.

  • Selected David Baker Architects, of Birmingham, Alabama, as project architect for the Vehicle Research and Innovation Laboratory project. The Samuel Ginn College of Engineering proposed the construction of a testing facility to address challenges faced by transit vehicle manufacturers in adopting low- or no-emissions technologies. The proposed project will provide a multi-axle dynamometer, suitable for full-sized transit vehicles within an environmental chamber, as well as component and engine testing areas, data analytical space and general office space.

  • Initiated a project to renovate Foy Hall to enhance the university’s catering kitchen capabilities. By improving an existing kitchen in Foy to serve as Campus Dining’s catering kitchen, Campus Dining’s catering program can be relocated from Terrell Hall. The board also selected Stacy Norman Architects of Auburn, Alabama, as the project architect. The firm has designed several university facilities in recent years, including the previous designs for Campus Dining and its catering kitchen. The project will be financed by Campus Dining funds.

  • Initiated a project to enclose the outdoor section of the University Events Center. University Special Events staff and Facilities Management have determined that the center, which consists of an indoor and outdoor space, would be better utilized, and operational costs would be reduced if the entire facility was permanently enclosed. Adding approximately 5,000 square feet to the outdoor section would eliminate the need for a tent and allow for the construction of office and storage space for the Special Events staff to relocate from Terrell Hall. The board also selected ArchitectureWorks of Birmingham, Alabama, as the architect for the project, which will be financed by a combination of university general funds and Auburn University Foundation funds.

  • Authorized the option to lease space at the Huntsville Research and Innovation Campus in the Cummings Research Park to generate revenue and develop new partnerships with the defense, aerospace and biotechnology sectors in Huntsville, Alabama.

  • Awarded a posthumous degree, a Doctor of Philosophy in chemistry, to Niharika Dalpati, who died in April. A fifth-year doctoral student in the College of Sciences and Mathematics, Dalpati conducted research supported by a National Science Foundation CAREER Award and focused on using nickel coordination complexes for photoelectrochemical energy conversion and storage.

  • Made several decisions regarding new and current student housing.

For Auburn University at Montgomery, the board accepted a proposal for a new degree, a Master of Science in Artificial Intelligence, which will expand the university’s current Management of Information Systems programs by offering graduate education specifically designed to prepare business professionals for the growth and use of artificial intelligence (AI) in multiple business strategies. Few universities offer such a concentration in AI, and almost none of them are associated with preparing business leaders in a college of business.

Auburn University is a nationally ranked land grant institution recognized for its commitment to world-class scholarship, interdisciplinary research with an elite, top-tier Carnegie R1 classification, life-changing outreach with Carnegie’s Community Engagement designation and an undergraduate education experience second to none. Auburn is home to more than 30,000 students, and its faculty and research partners collaborate to develop and deliver meaningful scholarship, science and technology-based advancements that meet pressing regional, national and global needs. Auburn’s commitment to active student engagement, professional success and public/private partnership drives a growing reputation for outreach and extension that delivers broad economic, health and societal impact.