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Governor includes $1.4 million in FY 2015 budget for Albany State University Fine Arts Center design work

Dougherty County legislative delegation members had hoped to get the full $24 million funding for the center

Rep. Winfred Dukes, D-Albany, said Wednesday it was “most regrettable” that Gov. Nathan Deal’s FY 2015 budget includes just $1.4 million in redesign work for a fine arts center at Albany State University rather than the hoped-for $30 million to fund the entire project. (File Photo)

Rep. Winfred Dukes, D-Albany, said Wednesday it was “most regrettable” that Gov. Nathan Deal’s FY 2015 budget includes just $1.4 million in redesign work for a fine arts center at Albany State University rather than the hoped-for $30 million to fund the entire project. (File Photo)

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State Rep. Carol Fullerton, D-Albany, says she believes the fine arts center at ASU may receive full funding in 2015. (File Photo>

ALBANY —Proponents of a new fine arts center at Albany State University, buoyed by comments from local legislators who were optimistic this would be the year the center was funded in the state budget, will have to wait at least one more year for that to happen.

On Wednesday, the Fiscal Year 2015 state budget proposed by Gov. Nathan Deal included $1.4 million for a second round of design work on the fine arts center.

“I’m delighted that the Governor has recommended design funding for the Fine Arts Building. I look forward to working with the Governor, members of the local legislative delegation and other members of the General Assembly, and the Chancellor, on this important and worthwhile project,” ASU Interim President Art Dunning said in a statement released by the university Wednesday. “If approved by the General Assembly, the facility ultimately will provide a state-of-the-art performance venue for Southwest Georgia community residents to enjoy world class arts and culture.”

According to Rep. Carol Fullerton, D-Albany, a full-funding request of $24 million for the new facility was submitted to the governor by the University System of Georgia Board of Regents.

“The BOR (Regents) sent a full-funding request of $24 million to the governor, but because so much time had passed because of the ruckus between alumni and the former president (Everette Freeman) involving the Ray Charles Foundation, he (Deal) thought it was a good thing to look at a redesign and start fresh,” Fullerton said. “This shows the governor is interested in this project and we can look to getting full funding in the next session’s budget.”

A new fine arts center has long been atop Albany State’s wish list for more than a decade, but has been bogged down by state bureaucracy and controversy. In 2000, the Regents approved a $21 million construction budget, but the money was never allocated by the Legislature. A year later, ASU became involved with the Ray Charles Foundation, which donated $3 million to go toward building the facility, which was to be named in honor of the late singer’s mother, Aretha Robinson.

In 2010, the General Assembly allotted $1.8 million to design the building, but that was the last state money the school would see until this budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1, provided the item stays as it is when the Legislature approves the governor’s spending plan.

But after more than a decade of lack of noticeable progress the Ray Charles Foundation last year demanded the return of the $3 million donation but settled for $1.25 million after seeking the assistance from Attorney General Sam Olen’s office.

As the state Legislature convened Monday, the Dougherty County legislative delegation was cautiously optimistic that full funding was coming this year. Reached Wednesday, state Rep. Winfred Duke, D- Albany, said he was bitterly disappointed in the governor’s decision to include the $1.4 million redesign funding rather than the full cost to build the facility.

“This decision is most regrettable for the students and and distinguished alumni of Albany State University,” Dukes said. “We had been led to believe full funding was forthcoming. But this was the governor’s decision and he is the governor.”

Sen. Freddie Powell Sims, D-Dawson, had not returned a call seeking comment by deadline Wednesday.

Charles, a world famous entertainer who was born in Albany, died in 2004 at age 73.