Law students: say goodbye to Fleming
Colorado Daily Staff Writer
July 14, 2004

It's official. The nationally ranked CU law school will finally have a new building.

After years of state funding pulled at the last minute and threats of losing accreditation, the Legislature's Capital Development Committee (CDC) voted unanimously in Denver Thursday to approve construction of the new $46.6 million Wolf Law building and the $29.9 million Alliance for Technology, Learning and Society Institute (ATLAS) Center on the CU-Boulder campus.

The CDC was the final hurdle for the new law school's construction, which had repeatedly come to a standstill in recent years due to budget cuts.

Paul Tabolt, CU vice chancellor for administration, begged the committee to pass the amended law school construction funding, which now includes the recently passed student construction fee to pay for the new buildings.

"Well we better hurry up and pass it before the project gets any bigger," said CDC Chair Andy McElhany, with a chuckle. The cost of the new building, which has been in the planning stages since 1997, was priced at $38.4 million in 2002. Tabolt said the $8 million increase in cost is due to increased enrollment and revised design plans for updated building codes and technology.

After the CDC passed the measure with little discussion, Tabolt raised his hands in the air with joy and relief.

"The dean of the law school talked about the need for a new law school when my son was born. Now my son is ready to go to college," he said. "I'm terribly excited. It's been a long process."

The law school, which was supposed to break ground in 2001, was forced to sit on the backburner when Gov. Bill Owens froze the $20 million originally allocated to the plan to offset a state budget deficit caused by the staggering economy.

The money never came back.

But this year brought a particular sense of urgency, as the American Bar Association (ABA) threatened to pull CU-Boulder's law school accreditation due to "woefully inadequate" facilities in the current 45-year-old Fleming Law building. A report issued a year ago said "the facility is worsening with each passing day" and has "a negative effect on the education students receive." The ABA also said that Fleming, which has not seen any major renovation since 1974, is too small, not up to building code standards, offers no place for students to plug in laptops and has no instructional courtroom.

Last month, CU President Elizabeth Hoffman and Law School Dean David Getches attended a hearing in San Francisco to prove to the ABA that CU secured funding to fix the problems and finally construct the new building. The meeting was originally intended for January, but the ABA gave CU a six-month extension to secure funding.

CU spokeswoman Michele McKinney said Thursday that the ABA's response would likely come in August. Hoffman told the Board of Regents on June 29 she thought the ABA meeting went very well for CU.

"They were very pleased to learn we had a mechanism and were moving forward," Tabolt agreed.

Within the new authorization, nearly half ($21.2 million) the funding will come from the student construction fee, passed by the University of Colorado Student Union (UCSU) in April without a campus-wide vote. The fee will begin at $100 per year in fall 2006, increase to $400 per year over the following four years and remain for 16 years. Twenty percent of the revenue of the fee will be devoted to financial aid.

Students in the law school already agreed to increase their tuition by $1,000 per year in 1998 to pay for the new building, and the law school has received $17.9 million in private gifts, most notably $3 million from Leon and Dora Wolf.

The CDC also approved the new ATLAS building construction Thursday. According to Director of University Budgets Rob Kohrman, ATLAS construction still needs approval from the Legislature's Joint Budget Committee (JBC), which will see the plan in September.

"We now have all the necessary pieces," he said, adding that preliminary law school construction will begin this fall by removing tennis courts on site. "We will wait for approval from the JBC on ATLAS, after that we'll be all set to go on both."

ATLAS, a state-of-the-art high-tech learning center, will probably see its groundbreaking this winter. The central tower, to be built where the Hunter Science building once stood, will house various multimedia setups, including video-editing and video-conferencing, and will include CU's most modern and centrally located auditorium. The underground performing arts space will hold classes in art, film, theater, dance, music and journalism.

At the CU Board of Regents meeting June 30, the regents added a caveat to the ATLAS funding so that if state funding were ever to become available, it could be used instead of student fees.

Several regents announced displeasure with the new student fees, saying that CU was constructing these new buildings "on the backs of the students."

Despite some misgivings, UCSU, the regents, the Colorado Commission on Higher Education (CCHE), the JBC, and now the CDC have all finally secured the fees and ultimately, the future of the only public law school in Colorado.

"CU is the first campus in the state to implement this kind of student fee, but I don't think it will be the last," Kohrman said.