New accounting rules hurt TRU capital program, committee told

Thompson Rivers University may have no where to put its new law school because of accounting rules adopted by the B.C. Liberal government that limit how buildings are funded.

The changes seriously hamper the university's ambitious capital program that's seen $100 million worth of building at TRU over 15 years.

TRU president Roger Barnsley told a legislative finance committee hearing Thursday at South Thompson Inn that the new rules prevent borrowing to build a new law school or new student residences.

Under earlier accounting rules the university borrowed and funded projects independently, including the International Building and $45-million student residences.

"Essentially there's no government money in any of these projects."

The International building was funded by borrowing and paying debt through an extra levy on foreign students. The campus housing project is a partnership with a private company paid by student rents.

But Barnsley said neither project would be possible today under generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP).

Under those accounting rules any new debt taken on by the university, whether funded by taxpayers or not, is recorded on Victoria's books as debt something the B.C. Liberal government is not eager to add to its growing burden.

"We're in a position where we can't build buildings," said Barnsley. "We've built $100 million worth of buildings in 15 years without support. That's been taken away."

Thompson Rivers University's new law school, scheduled to open in 2011 in partnership with University of Calgary, will be housed in the short term in the House of Learning, now under construction. But the building was not designed for the dozen faculty and 50 students who will enter the program each year.

And, with 1,200 students this year, Barnsley said the International Building is maxed out and needs an addition.

"We designed the building so we can have an extension."

While any debt would be the responsibility of TRU, Barnsley acknowledged to the committee that the province would ultimately be responsible in the event of a default.

Barnsley and TRU board of governors member Karl de Bruijn also asked the committee to recommend the province reinstate a program that saw Victoria give matching dollars to private capital donations.

The select standing committee on finance and government services met in Kamloops as part of an annual tour of the province. Comprising both government and Opposition members, it will make recommendations to the finance minister before next year's budget.

The university representatives also asked the province to consider funding an additional 600 full-time equivalent students in TRU open learning due to a double-digit growth rate.

Other presentations in Kamloops included from Tourism Kamloops and city arts groups all of them asking for more or stable government funding despite a $2.8 billion deficit this year.

© Copyright 2018 Kamloops Daily News