Eastern Kentucky University’s aviation program is moving back to Madison County, President Doug Whitlock told the board of regents Saturday.

For several years, the flight portion of the program operated out of the Montgomery County Airport, about an hour’s drive from Richmond.

On Sept. 26, the university will officially return the program to the Madison County Airport near Berea.

The airport recently acquired a new fixed-base operator who has agreed to purchase two new training aircraft for the university’s use, Whitlock said.

“The planes are the same kind that the U.S. Air Force Academy uses in its flight-training program,” he said.

Because of increased construction costs, the university plans to defer a proposed conference center and dining facility that was to be part of an addition to its Business and Technology Center, Whitlock said. A review of the project estimated its cost at $35,3 million, about $7.3 million more than available funds.

However, EKU will go ahead with the performing arts center proposed for the facility off the Eastern Bypass and South Kit Carson Drive.

An architectural firm is redesigning the structure, and the project could be put up for bidding in November, Whitlock said.

Plans for the first phase of the university’s new science building also are being revised.

The lowest bid on the project’s first phase, $61.9 million, was about $17.3 more than expected.

Rising prices for metals and petroleum are the main reasons for the increased costs, said James Street, EKU associate vice president for capital planning and facilities management. In addition to its use in transportation and powering equipment, many construction materials are derived from petroleum, he said.

An analysis of options for reducing costs is underway, but no alternatives were mentioned Saturday.

Whitlock said the university would use as much of its uncommitted fund balance as the state finance cabinet would allow to help pay for the project. Currently, EKU holds $4 million in uncommitted funds.

“We don’t want to defer too much to the project’s second phase because future construction costs may be even higher,” the president said.

Street submitted a list of other state education projects whose construction costs have risen from 25 to 40 percent.

“We’re not the only ones affected,” he said.

On a more positive note, the $7.5 million renovation of the Clay Hall dormitory was completed in time for new students to move in last month, Street reported.

Renovation of the EKU intramural fields is nearly one-third complete and should be ready late this calendar year.

EKU’s Post Secondary Education Center in Manchester is 80 percent complete, and it may be ready as early as January.

“It should be the best looking building in Manchester,” Street said.

The state has agreed to match a $1.05 million donation for EKU’s $2.8 million library studio for academic creativity, the board was told.

University revenues for the fiscal year ended June 30 were one percent above projections, Financial Affairs Vice President Debbie Newsom told the board.

Expenses were 91 percent of projections, she said, creating a surplus of about $3.6 million. The surplus is largely responsible for the university’s uncommitted fund balance.

Newsom attributed the reduced cost to a hiring freeze that Whitlock imposed after Gov. Steve Beshear announced that diminished state tax revenues would mean reduced appropriations for higher education.

Bill Robinson can be reached at brobinson@richmondregister.com or at 623-1669, Ext. 267.

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