Donors slow to offset costs for UA president's office

2014-07-27T00:00:00Z 2014-07-29T09:22:18Z Donors slow to offset costs for UA president's officeBy Carol Ann Alaimo Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

One of Ann Weaver Hart’s first wishes as president of the University of Arizona is about to come true.

Now the school just needs to find donors willing to pay for it.

Moving day is near for Hart and her 13-member staff, who soon will relocate to a new executive office suite at Old Main, the 1891 landmark that was crumbling but recently underwent a $13.5 million renovation.

The project was approved shortly after Hart’s 2012 hiring by the board that oversees Arizona’s university system, on condition it be paid for entirely with philanthropic gifts.

So far, donors have shown limited interest.

The UA, which typically raises about $150 million a year in total donations, has raised about $2.7 million for Old Main since April 2013 when the first gift came in.

By contrast, donors have given tens of millions during that time to pay for upgrades to UA athletics facilities.

One would-be donor said she was poised to give $25,000 to the Old Main effort but put away her checkbook when she heard about Hart’s plan to relocate there.

Alumna Roni Woolston who’s made many donations for other UA needs, sees the office move as unnecessary and frivolous when the school has suffered through years of state budget cuts.

Hart’s current offices, on the seventh floor of the school’s 1960s-era Administration Building, have served past UA presidents well, she said.

Spending money on a new executive suite “doesn’t send the right message,” said Woolston, a trustee on the UA’s fundraising foundation.

Chris Sigurdson, a spokesman for Hart, said he’s heard that some share Woolston’s view but doubts the sentiment is widespread.

“Most of the people I’ve talked to think it’s a natural move,” he said.

UA Provost Andrew Comrie agreed.

“It’s common for universities to house their presidents in the most iconic buildings on campus,” Comrie said.

“It’s not extravagant or anything. There’s no gold dripping from the ceiling,” he said. “I think we went to great pains to create something special in a reasonable way.”

The total tab for the presidential move isn’t clear because many of the costs are rolled into the project’s overall budget. The structural repairs, for example, had to be done to save the building whether Hart moved there or not, Comrie said.

The president’s new campus home features raised ceilings, replacement wood flooring, original windows overlooking a rebuilt veranda, and about $250,000 worth of modern Scandinavian-style furnishings chosen specifically to contrast with the venue’s historic features.

Walls painted in oyster and cream shades will serve as a backdrop for UA museum pieces in a bid to showcase the school’s artistic riches.

“You won’t find Kokopelli here. No pink and turquoise, ” quipped architect Corky Poster, referring to the desert colors and Native American fertility symbol common in much of Southwest decor.

“Our goal was to create a 21st-century space inside a 19th-century shell,” said Poster, who oversaw the modern interior design with Hart’s input.

Without enough donations to cover costs, the UA has been paying contractors with dollars saved through debt refinancing and money from an emergency building repair fund. That money will be replaced as private donations come in, officials said.

The presidential suite only covers half the top floor of Old Main. The other half has space for meetings, receptions and special events and will be open to the public later this year.

Hart’s due to move by mid-August. She’s expected to hold a public open-house at Old Main sometime this fall.

Jim Moore, president and CEO of the UA Foundation, is hopeful donations will pick up once would-be givers have a chance to see the finished product

“We went into this campaign fully expecting the fundraising to take several years, he said

“We look forward to showing the completed facility to potential major donors.”

Contact the reporter at calaimo@tucson.com or 573-4138.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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