INVESTIGATION: URI President Spent Nearly $500,000 on Repairs for Taxpayer-Funded Home
Tuesday, December 18, 2012
Since 2009, the University of Rhode Island has conducted a variety of renovations to President David Dooley’s on-campus residence, costing the state more than $460,000 in the process.
According to information obtained through a public records request, the repairs were made to bring the house up to full-time occupancy status after being used exclusively for functions in the previous seven years. Former President Robert Carothers did not live in the home.
Other expenses include $39,200 for irrigation systems for grounds and beds, $18,580 for telecommunications updating and $4,573 for landscaping and $960 in moving fees.
“Over the tenure of the previous three University Presidents, the house was initially occupied, but in the outer years of their tenure it was only used for functions,” said URI Assistant Director of Communications and Marketing Dave Lavallee. “The building was in need of a major exterior envelope and interior systems work as well as renovation and modernization.”
Dooley moved into the residence, located on 56 Upper College Road in Kingston, when he was named President in July 2009 and the property still serves as a space for functions. In 2010, the house played host to 48 events, 46 in 2011, and is scheduled to hold 42 events by the end of this year.
Despite the need for the building to pull double duty, not all Rhode Islanders see the need to pour nearly a half million dollars into a single state university property.
“This seems very excessive,” said State Representative Doreen Costa. “There are so many cuts being made to the disabled, maybe the money could have been used there. We are always talking about cuts to schools, music programs, etc. This money would have went a long way.”
Cuts in State Aid
According to the most recent Grapevine study, Rhode Island spent $163.5 million on higher education in 2011-2012, not including federal monies. That figure has dropped from $196.4 million in 2006-07.
In 2008, student athletes on campus felt the consequences of budget cuts when the field hockey, men’s tennis, and swimming teams were eliminated as part of a series of campus-wide cutbacks.
URI is not the only state university whose spending on behalf of its president has recently come into question. Earlier this year, the Dayton Daily News reported that Ohio State University (OSU) spent more than $895,000 for gatherings at the president’s mansion between April 2008 and June 2011, and blew through over $64,000 on bow ties, bow tie cookies, and O-H and bow tie pins for President Gordon Gee (the former Brown University President) and others to distribute. Since becoming President of OSU October 2007, Gee has reportedly racked up nearly $7.7 million in expenses.
Rhode Island Statewide Coalition (RISC) executive director Donna Perry also questioned the renovations considering the state’s current budgetary squeeze.
“In light of a recent report that noted URI is not keeping pace with other comparable state schools in terms of facilities and infrastructure, it would seem that spending over $400,000 on furnishings and remodeled rooms for the University President’s residence is an inappropriate use of state tax dollars when clearly other building facilities needs exist at the campus,” said Perry.
State Senator Wants More Info
Regardless of the steep costs of the renovations during a harsh economic climate, State Senator Louis DiPalma, a member of the Senate Education Committee, said he’d like to learn more about the expenses.
“From the outside, it does appear to be a high number,” said DiPalma. “I’d like to speak to someone in the University’s Controllers Office and see exactly what the money was used for. I’d like more information.”