March 25, 2010

RIO2 application deadline extended to June 1

by Anne Krapfl

University employees contemplating the second retirement incentive option (RIO2) have a few more months to assess their situation and crunch the numbers. The state Board of Regents on March 24 approved Iowa State's request to extend the application deadline for RIO2 to June 1 (from the current March 31). Employees approved to participate in the program still must retire from the university by July 30.

As of this week, 80 employees have been approved to participate in the program.

Extending the application date to June 1 gives employees additional time to learn more about the impact of budget decisions as they either apply for or review/approve RIO2 applications. A preliminary university budget isn't due to the regents until later in April.

Eligibility for the program has not changed. Employees with at least 10 years of service at Iowa State who will be at least 57 years old on their retirement date are eligible.

New greenhouses for the horticulture department

The board also gave final approval to a revised proposal to replace about 27,000 square feet of greenhouse on the south side of Horticulture Hall with about 11,000 square feet of state-of-the-art greenhouse space, a $4 million project. Three years ago, the board approved a larger, $6 million proposal, but private fund raising proved more difficult than expected, and department leaders scaled back the project.

"As many people on this campus know, there is a severe shortage of quality greenhouse space," said horticulture professor and department chair Jeff Iles. "This space will be smaller, but it will have environmental controls that will improve the quality of the research and allow us to grow plants year-round. Currently we can't use many of the greenhouses in the summer because they become too hot.

"It will be structurally sound and allow us to do a better job of teaching greenhouse management to our students," he added.

As planned, about half of the space will be for faculty research, the other half for instructional use, including horticulture club projects. Due to the project's leaner budget, there will be no space for plant collections or the existing conservatory, Iles said. He is working with Reiman Gardens leaders to see if they have interest in receiving any of the plants in the collection. Funds for the $4 million project will come from university funds ($1.9 million), private gifts ($1 million), interest income on ISU treasurer temporary investments ($1 million) and the Agriculture Experiment Station ($100,000).

Greenhouse work is scheduled to begin the week of May 17 and wrap up in August 2011. Iles said most of the current greenhouse, dating back to 1913, will be disassembled and the parts recycled. The plan is to sell or reuse elsewhere a 1980 addition to the greenhouse.

For 15 months, the department will have no greenhouse space. Researchers will find space elsewhere or be limited to refrigerator-sized growth chambers in Horticulture Hall. Iles said greenhouse-reliant courses, many of which are offered every other year, will be on hiatus until fall 2011.

Iles said that the planned smaller greenhouse leaves the department with some additional outdoor space south of Horticulture Hall. No plans are final yet, but he noted that a departmental landscaped area would be a nice complement to central campus and an additional instructional tool for horticulture students.

State support for the athletics department

The board unanimously approved a resolution presented by board president David Miles that directs president Gregory Geoffroy and Northern Iowa president Ben Allen to "assess the feasibility of, and formulate plans that would, over an appropriate time period, substantially reduce or eliminate general fund subsidies for intercollegiate athletics." The University of Iowa reportedly has achieved this. There was no board discussion of the resolution and the two presidents were not asked to offer comments.

This year (and following last fall's mid-year reversion), the ISU athletics department received $1.6 million in state funds -- or 3.7 percent of the department's revenues. Those funds largely are used to pay for the scholarships of female student athletes as the university complies with federal Title IX gender requirements.

Greater efficiency among the regent institutions

Miles presented a second resolution, also approved unanimously, that directs the five regent schools to review four large service areas -- IT, purchasing, human resources and facilities -- for opportunities for consolidation and inter-institutional cost savings. He asked for a report at the board's April meeting on possible projects.

Miles emphasized that "a great deal of initiative and success already has been demonstrated by each of the institutions." In light of Gov. Chet Culver signing the state government reorganization bill last week (from which the regent enterprise is exempted), Miles noted that "we need to do more."

Within each of the four areas, Miles identified specific services to be studied:

  • Information technology: software purchases/licensing, e-mail consolidation, web content management, disaster recovery/key infrastructure replicated off-site
  • Purchasing: cellular service, risk management, printing
  • Human resources: employee benefits, employee training, employee wellness programs
  • Facilities: equipment contracts, "green" cleaning products and services, maintenance stores/inventory, use of electronic bids/moving toward paperless systems

Miles emphasized that consolidations should only occur "where they make sense." For example, he said proposed consolidations shouldn't introduce new risk. Or, a proposed consolidation might not involve all the regent institutions.