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HBCU Historic Restoration Bill Moves Closer to Reality

HBCU Historic Restoration Bill Moves Closer to Reality
By Charles Dervarics

The House of Representatives has approved a bill to promote the restoration of buildings on historically Black college campuses, boosting prospects for legislation that has languished in Congress since last year.

Members by voice vote approved a plan by Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., that would set goals for restoration of historic buildings and reduce by 30 percent the matching funds HBCUs would have to provide for such efforts. A previous law to encourage historic restoration at HBCUs required a 50 percent match, but that statute expired in 2001.

“This is a day that has been several years in the making,” Clyburn said of House action on the bill, H.R. 1606.

Despite difficulties with the old matching requirement, the previous law set the groundwork for future gains in several states, including Clyburn’s. In South Carolina, he said, federal funds helped rescue Arnett Hall at Allen University “from the brink of destruction.” Boarded up for 40 years, the building topped the state’s list of endangered historic sites.

Buildings on other HBCU campuses have similar needs, he said. “The history contained within the hallowed halls of these institutions is as rich and diverse as the students who passed through them.”

Lawmakers of both parties acknowledged that a change in the federal approach is justified. “The matching requirement has proved to be a difficult barrier to meet,” said Rep. James Hansen, R-Utah, chairman of the House Resources Committee. “The historic quality of these buildings makes it important that we aid in their preservation.”

But it is unclear how much new money the bill would provide if it reaches President Bush’s desk and becomes law. To gain support for passage, the bill currently has no set dollar amount for the program. Clyburn’s original bill, which was introduced in April 2001, would have authorized $530 million; the House-passed version contains only “such sums as may be necessary.”

The General Accounting Office (GAO) has said it could cost $755 million to repair these buildings. The $530 million in the original bill represents 70 percent of this figure.

Clyburn acknowledged that challenges remain. “Should this bill become law, it will take many years and a strong commitment to meet the need the GAO has documented. But without this bill becoming law, we cannot even begin.”

To phase in funding for the program would require about $120 million in the next five years, with substantial funding increases thereafter, he said.

One advantage of the new bill is that it could help HBCUs that were funded under the old program but could never use the money because they failed to meet the required 50 percent match. These HBCUs could use the 30 percent standard outlined in the new bill.

The action now moves to the Senate, where Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., already has introduced a version of Clyburn’s bill. However, Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., also recently proposed an HBCU bill with a more prescriptive framework to review and set priorities for preservation projects.

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