Spending freeze halts purchase of new vans

For many years, student organizations in need of transportations to conferences and other events could rent vans from the Student Center. At the start of this academic year, the Student Center removed the vans from rental service, and turned them over to surplus.

The service was discontinued due concerns surrounding the reliability of the vans. The newest van in service was a 2000 Chevrolet Express with approximately 55,000 miles.

The Student Center had worked with SGA to replace the vans. However, the efforts stalled in negotiations with the Department Of Administrative Services (DOAS).

The SGA passed a bill last spring for $38,000, which was intended for use by the Student Center for replacing the vans. “Over the summer, [the Student Center] tried to purchase the vans, but that’s about the time…we started having economic troubles,” said Nick Wellkamp, undergraduate student body president.

Due to the budget crisis, the state had issued a moratorium on vehicle purchase by most state agencies.

Due to Board of Regents regulations, SGA’s budget, funded by student activity fees, is considered state funds. SGA and the Student Center negotiated with the DOAS to get an exception.

“The DOAS realized that student activity fees were self-replenishing funds—that they’re not funded by tax dollars,” Wellkamp said.

After negotiations, the Student Center was granted an exception and allowed to purchase a van through a state contract.

Student Center officials were startled by the regulations enforced by the state.

“In the past, there’s always been an understanding that while…Tech holds and administers student activity fees on behalf of students, the student activity fees should not be subject to state purchasing requirements,” said Rich Steele, director of the Student Center.

The Student Center worked with SGA to find appropriate vehicles for a rental fleet, paying particular attention to reliability due to recent concerns. Tech was allowed to purchase two vans, but the available vehicles were not satisfactory.

“We have chosen not to move forward with purchasing the least reliable vehicle in its class,” Wellkamp said.

Student organizations typically used the vans for transportation to and from events, including retreats and conferences. The vans were also used to provide some guests transportation while coming to campus.

When reliability concerns initially surfaced, Student Center officials considered restricting van usage to within the perimeter.

“We felt we could get to somebody if they needed help quickly,” said Loren Sumerlin, operations manager at the Student Center.

While restricting the distance vans were allowed to drive could help maintain safety, driving shorter distances would not make the van any more reliable.

In addition, student groups had to go through training and fill out paperwork to rent the vans, making van rentals increasingly difficult. With the increasing expenses and paperwork, the Student Center felt keeping the old vans was not worthwhile.

To provide students with a beneficial rental service, the Student Center officials said they feel it is necessary to purchase new vans.

Current efforts to protect taxpayer money have prevented the Student Center from replacing its fleet, and in the long term, this will limit the ability of student groups to travel to outside activities.