David Pryor, the former U.S. senator and governor and current member of the University of Arkansas Board of Trustees is absent from a board meeting this week because of a health issue, but he did provide UA officials with questions about a proposed Razorback football stadium expansion, as he’d promised last week.
In a statement, his office said:
Senator David Pryor was admitted yesterday to UAMS as a precaution after feeling slight pressure in his chest. The former Governor was kept overnight for observation and testing. He is scheduled to return home today, and no surgery or further tests are expected at this time.
Late this afternoon, his office said he was home, but he wouldn’t be attending the Board meeting, scheduled to run through tomorrow. But received a copy of the letter he sent on the stadium project. On the agenda for the UA Board this week is a proposal to hire a construction manager for the project. Two joint proposals were ranked at the top of several submitted. They were evaluated on a points system, but didn’t submit financial bids.
The cover letter went to Athletic Director Jeff Long, UA System President Donald Bobbitt and Fayetteville campus Chancellor Joseph Steinmetz. It commented:
I realize that this is a large number of questions and that many will require some time and research for a response. It is not expected for you to have to respond immediately, but hopefully, in a timely fashion.
It is very possible that this stadium project and related bond issue will become the largest commitment in our state’s higher education history, and I urge caution before we embark. In a time when higher education across the nation is receiving extraordinary scrutiny and examination on issues like tuition, soaring student debt, and flat or declining state appropriations for higher education, we, as trustees, have a special duty to speak to these concerns.
1. What is the expected cost estimate for the stadium’s North end extension?
2. Has there been a cost/benefit ratio study for the North-end stadium project?
3. How many additional seats will this dollar amount add to stadium capacity?
4. What is the estimated cost of each additional seat for the North-end project?
5. Will there be any additional seats added for student use?
6. Will there be any additional general admission seats?
7. Is there an estimated (or actual) cost for the requested new video board?
8. Is there a cost estimate yet on the cost of the additional elevators to be installed?
9. For what price to the general public will the new boxes or special seats be offered?
10. Will competitive bids be taken for various construction needs? In choosing construction contractors for the North-end project, what language in the contract addresses competitive bids, accountability and transparency?
11. Should the North-end stadium project be approved and completed, what other construction priorities do you foresee for the Athletic Department? Are there cost estimates for those future projects?
12. On a scale of 1-10, how would the “North end project” rate as a priority for the Fayetteville campus?
13. To the best of your knowledge, is the North end stadium project the largest (in cost) construction project in history for the Fayetteville campus?
14. It was estimated in January of 2016 that the stadium project would require an expenditure of some $160,000,000. A bond issue of some magnitude will be required. Would such a debt affect our bond rating? Would this debt preclude or adversely affect future bond issues needed for other campus needs?
15. In (or about) the year 2000, the UA Fayetteville campus issued bonds for approximately $100,000,000, which resulted in 22,000 seats being added to our seating capacity. According to public record, there was competitive bidding at each stage of that project. The North end project could cost $200,000,000 and result in increasing seating capacity by only 3,000 seats. Please explain.
16. In Athletic Director Jeff Long’s January 2016 letter to the Board of Trustees, it was stated that the Broyles Center would be renovated and modernized. Do you have an estimated cost for this expansion?
17. Do these plans include any additional parking in, under or around the Broyles Complex?
18. How many present parking spaces (presently used by students and staff) just north of the Broyles Center will be utilized due to this expansion?
19. What dollar amount of bonds will be issued to combine with private and public funding? What year will these bonds mature? Will bond issues be required for additional projects in the future? In past 25 years, among the bond issues of the Fayetteville campus, what is the breakout of bond issue proceeds being used for athletic purposes vs. academic needs?
20. What is present indebtedness of the University of Arkansas-Fayetteville?
21. Is there a maximum indebtedness or a limit to debt we can safely incur?
22. What is present indebtedness presently owed as a result of new or upgraded athletic facilities?
23. What percent of revenues collected by the Athletic Department are allocated to academic needs for the Fayetteville campus?
24. Do we know what other SEC Member schools give to academic needs from athletic revenues? Please explain.
25. As of April 1, 2016, has the bond underwriting firm(s) been selected?
26. If not, what procedure will be used for choosing bond underwriting firms?
27. What procedure will be employed in choosing bond counsel?
28. Will the choosing of bond counsel and bond underwriters be a transparent process? Please explain.
29. How will firm(s) be chosen to participate in this process? Please explain.
30. Approximately $32 million is awarded each year to each SEC institution as a result of the new SEC TV channel. How is our $32 million being used?
31. To the best of your knowledge, how are other member SEC schools using this financial “windfall” for the institutions they represent? Is there a certain percentage of these SEC TV channel dollars being allocated for the “academic” needs of the SEC members?
32. Please explain terms and details of the SEC TV contract?
33. What future plans does the Athletic Department have for these funds? Has any consideration been given to allocating a certain percentage of the yearly SEC TV revenues for academic needs or to help absorb tuition needs?
Accountability for football, too? That has not been the pattern and practice over the years at UA. And Pryor is but one trustee. But putting these questions out there surely will bring a response.
UPDATE: With a motion, a second and a vote today, the UA board of trustees disregarded a recommendation by UA brass that the board accept Nabholz Construction as the general contractor on an expansion of Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville, instead awarding the position to Nabholz rival CDI Contractors. Seated in the audience, CEO Bill Hannah and Nick Nabholz of Nabholz Construction were both visibly upset by the vote, with Nabholz pinching the bridge of his nose as his face visibly turned red.
Prior to the vote, board member John Goodson had submitted documents to the board showing how construction contracts are awarded at each campus through the years. The position of general contractor on the project was originally awarded to Flintco Construction in Jan. 2013, but that company has since had to withdraw, requiring a new general contractor to be selected.
Reynolds stadium was last updated in 2001 with the construction of an upper deck on the east side, a series of suites over the south end zone and other additions.
UA Chancellor Joseph Steinmetz and Associate Vice Chancellor for Facilities Mike Johnson told the board that their recommendation was for Nabholz to receive the contract, with CDI coming in second, saying the University looked at each company’s past experience, including their local experience, their experience working on higher education campuses, and their experience in working on athletic stadiums. Nabholz, they told the board, was also the recommendation of UA athletics.
Once the recommendation had been presented, UA Board member Ben Hyneman said that being fair and equitable on “how we spread around the business of the University of Arkansas” is important. Noting Nabholz and CDI were “virtually a dead heat” in internal scoring on who should receive the contract, Hyneman said it is the board’s responsibility to not “let things get too one-sided.”
“I notice that in 2015, that Nabholz has done four projects within the system,” Hyneman said. “I notice that CDI had done one in Fayetteville in ’15 and one in ’16, so two and four, you know? I went back in a little further and saw that when this [expansion of the stadium] was initially approved in 2013, at that time, CDI was second. They were second in the selection process then, and obviously they were well-qualified then and well familiar with the project.”
Hyneman then made a motion that they approve CDI as the general contractor on the stadium expansion, “just for the reason of spreading it around a little bit, and because obviously, to me at least, they’re equally qualified.” The motion was seconded, and carried unanimously.
Hannah and Nabholz left soon after the vote, and refused an opportunity to comment.