colbournhall University of Central Florida
Trevor Colbourn Hall opened last month at the University of Central Florida.

University of Central Florida misused funds to build $38 million academic facility

The university's chief financial officer resigns after admitting that he diverted operating funds to construct Trevor Colbourn Hall.

Leaders at the University of Central Florida say they misused state funds by allocating operating funds to pay for the construction of a $38 million building on the Orlando campus.

The Orlando Sentinel reports that in the wake of the disclosure, the university's chief financial officer, Bill Merck, has resigned.

Merck, who has worked for the university since 1996, had decided to use operating dollars to fund the construction. University President Dale Whittaker says Merck took “full and immediate responsibility” for the problem and thought he was doing it for the right reasons.

The money was used to build Trevor Colbourn Hall, an academic building that opened last month. The state auditor general’s office alerted the university of the improper allocation after reviewing the project.

University spokesman Grant Heston says Merck made the decision in 2016 to use money from the incorrect pot because the dollars weren’t available elsewhere.

The university has replaced the money with funds from other sources, Whittaker says, and asserted that “students are not adversely affected” by these moves.

Atlanta law firm Bryan Cave will conduct an investigation, which will include inquiries into how the decision was made and whether others besides Merck were involved.

Whittaker says that going forward he’ll split the responsibilities for overseeing facilities planning and university finances. Misty Shepherd, the associate vice president and chief financial for the UCF Foundation, will be the interim vice president for administration and finance, and Kathy Mitchell, now the associate director of the university audit department, will serve as interim CFO.

Construction on Trevor Colbourn Hall started in May 2017. The 136,786-square-foot building houses 10 classrooms, 19 study rooms and 343 offices and replaces a facility also known as Colbourn Hall, which is one of the oldest buildings on campus and is set to be razed.

Whitaker issued a statement about the misappropriation of funds. It read in part:

Board of Trustees Chairman Marcos Marchena and I shared with the Board of Governors — the body that oversees the State University System — that UCF used inappropriate funds to construct the new Trevor Colbourn Hall.

This decision was made several years ago; however, as president, I am committed to always acting with integrity and immediately taking action to resolve important issues....

...My promise to you is that we will work through these issues together in a transparent and collaborative way. I appreciate your partnership in ensuring that we always pursue our mission of serving students and our community with integrity.

 

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