University of Central Arkansas President Allen Meadors said Monday that a disputed $121,190 in renovations to a university guest house at 1951 South Blvd. will actually save the college’s academic departments money.

A state newspaper article Monday quoted faculty and staff senate presidents in saying that the renovations to the guest house were not viewed favorably and came at an inopportune time, when raises for classified employees have been denied.

An approved 2.2 percent raise for UCA employees was suspended in June after Richard Weiss, director of the state Department of Finance and Administration, announced the state’s decision to forego raises for all state employees for six months.

"That (money used for renovations) is separate," said, Larry Burns, staff senate president. "They don’t realize that it couldn’t be set for raises. There are several pots of money, and once they know that, they begin to understand and get it," Burns said. "People have raised their eye brows at it, but when I explain it, they’re less concerned."

Burns said the $121,190 is a drop in the bucket compared with the $20 million spent on renovations in one year at the university.

"This only represents half of a percent. It seems like a good expense," Burns said. "We had a certain time to use that money and we don’t see this as a big deal. Initially, when people hear that amount, it raises questions, but once we explain how much that is compared to everything, it doesn’t seem like a big deal."

Burns said he has never questioned the necessity of the house for campus guests, and according to Meadors, academic departments stand to save money with the renovated home.

"For example, the provost said we have about 200 nights a year of visiting faculty on campus," Meadors said. "Then, we have visiting consultants, speakers, accreditation teams. It goes on and on. We put all of them in a hotel. We still will have to because this house won’t cover everyone."

Each department is responsible for covering board costs for their respective university guests.

"The money saved can be used for the things departments need," Meadors said. "They can now use that $500 for students, materials and faculty members."

Meadors said that over time, academic departments will save more than the cost of the renovations. 

"That’s money that the academic units will no longer have to spend," Meadors said. "Universities smaller than ours have two to three houses for guests. We didn’t have the money to renovate more than one."  

A yearly letter from the president’s office to be distributed Thursday said that the university plans to have more faculty exchanges for academic programs. The prospect would increase the 200 nights approximation to near 500 nights.

"That’s a potential savings of $30,000 a year. In the future, as needs continue to expand, we’ll try to add more guest housing," Meadors said.

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