HBCU Preservation Bill Gains Key EndorsementsSupport is growing for new legislation earmarking federal aid to preserve historic buildings and other structures on the campuses of historically Black colleges and universities.
Advocates made a significant gain June 12 when Sens. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., and Zell Miller, D-Ga., announced plans to sponsor an HBCU building preservation bill in the Senate. Members of the Congressional Black Caucus already had introduced the bill in the House of Representatives, but the Senate — which has no African American members — still lacked core sponsors for the legislation.
Lieberman, the Democrats’ 2000 vice presidential nominee, said he was spurred to introduce the bill after visiting and speaking at Benedict College and Allen University, two South Carolina HBCUs, earlier this year.
During his visits, Lieberman was particularly impressed with the recent renovation of an historic building on the Allen University campus that has re-emerged as a focal point for activity on campus. “Preservation can bring buildings to life in a way that supports higher education and the surrounding communities,” he said.
Lieberman also heard from Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., former head of the Congressional Black Caucus, about the hundreds of other HBCU historic facilities in need of repair. “I learned how much more needs to be done,” the senator said.
The Connecticut lawmaker noted that historic preservation of these buildings has a link to education. HBCUs account for eight of the top 10 producers of African American engineers, he said, and 42 percent of African Americans with doctorates have received one of their degrees from a Black college.
“The architectural beauty of these historic sites is a sign of something deeper — the fact that HBCUs have served as critical portals of opportunity for African Americans throughout our history,” he said.
The bill also has a co-sponsor in Miller, who as the former governor of Georgia developed an in-depth understanding of the state’s 10 HBCUs. At these schools, 47 historic structures are in need of repair and renovation. These structures “are national treasures that need our help,” he said. “They are threatened by neglect and insufficient funds.”
A 1998 General Accounting Office survey found 712 buildings on 103 HBCU campuses that were in need of either repairs or structural renovations. Legislation approved in 1996 provided $29 million for restoration of buildings on 12 campuses, but that legislation has expired, said Clyburn, who joined Miller and Lieberman at a news conference to announce introduction of the Senate bill.
In its report, GAO pegged the cost of preserving the historic buildings at $755 million.
The Senate plan will follow the structure of H.R. 1666, which Clyburn introduced last year to support historic preservation at HBCUs. This bill has no specific funding authorization level, leaving final funding decisions to lawmakers in the annual appropriations process.
However, the bill does state that the federal government would provide no more than 70 percent of funds for a repair or renovation project, with individual colleges expected to provide 30 percent of total costs.
Clyburn acknowledged that some campuses may have trouble with the matching requirement, but said such support is vital to show Congress that individual colleges are committed to the project. “Some will be able to [find the match]. Others will not,” he said.
However, Clyburn noted that the new matching requirement is less than the level required by the recently expired 1996 law. Under that bill, colleges had to provide a 50 percent match, and many had difficulty with that requirement.
Clyburn is pressing for legislative action this year, in part because of the serious problems facing many buildings. For example, he said, the National Trust for Historic Preservation has included the 712 HBCU structures on the list of the “11 most endangered historic sites in the country.”
The Senate bill would go to the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Clyburn’s bill is under the jurisdiction of the House Resources Committee, which approved the bill in late May. With committee approval, H.R. 1666 now goes to the full House for a vote.
“Our goal is to finish it before the end of the year,” Clyburn said. After creating a new program, lawmakers then could turn to the issue of funding. “Every year we’ll battle for appropriations,” he said.
For more information, contact Clyburn’s office at (202) 225-3315 or Lieberman at (202) 224-4041.
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