$9.5m Fresno State expansion moves ahead

SACRAMENTO -- A planned expansion at Fresno State took a step forward Wednesday after a key legislative committee approved state money for preliminary drawings.

The $9.5 million building will be designed for faculty offices, lockers and labs to support the university's nursing, athletic and physical therapy programs.

Approval of $562,000 in startup money was put in limbo last month after some lawmakers said university athletic funds -- not state money -- should be used to pay for portions of the building that are used by sports. The Senate-Assembly budget committee approved the planning dollars on Wednesday with little debate. But lawmakers did not resolve how much, if any, California State University, Fresno, might have to pay for construction costs down the road.

"We're pleased that the conference committee has approved this, allowing it to move forward," said Fresno State spokeswoman Shirley Armbruster.

The full Legislature still must approve the planning money, which comes from a voter-approved bond backed by the state's general fund. University officials are hoping to secure $9.5 million in state bond money in coming years to pay for construction costs. Asked whether the university would be willing to share construction costs, Armbruster said, "We'll cross that bridge when we come to it."

The athletic budget is currently under stress from stagnant revenues and stubbornly high expenses. The Bulldog Foundation -- the university's sports fundraising arm -- is finding it harder to raise dollars in the down economy.

The new building is planned to complement a $7.5 million aquatics center under construction near Cedar and Barstow avenues.

By approving the planning money, lawmakers ignored a recommendation by the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office, which said the financially strapped state should approve only projects that "address life-safety issues or provide equipment necessary to complete previously funded projects."

The state faces a $19.1 billion deficit this fiscal year that lawmakers are struggling to close.