University of Oklahoma Physical Plant employees no longer will wear OU hats when on the job at the school’s Norman campus.

The OU Board of Regents approved a 50-year contract to outsource a portion of its utilities to Vancouver-based Corix Utilities Inc. during a special meeting Tuesday.

“It seemed like the right thing to do,” said OU President David Boren after the meeting. “The university … its core business is not the utilities.”

Boren said outsourcing a portion of its utility systems — steam, electrical, natural gas, chilled water, portable water and waste water — will save the university an estimated $50 million over the long haul and avoid capital outlays.

And a month after regents approved increasing OU tuition by 4.5 percent to mitigate cuts in state aid — after holding tuition costs steady for a year — outsourcing will rid OU of some of the debt riding its books, Boren said.

He said the university will be able to pay off more than $45 million of its bond indebtedness.

“This is not only a cost reduction over the life of this contract, but will avoid any additional borrowing to upgrade,” Boren said.

He said the contract is only a supplement to the university’s utilities, since most of its provisions come from OG&E, reminding of university plans to operate solely on wind power in two years.

Boren said the university, which has been investigating outsourcing its utilities since May 2007, put out a national call for prospects.

He said Corix, which does work for U.S. military bases and some state utilities, was the only candidate to submit a comprehensive proposal that included the full scope of utilities, while agreeing to retain all university employees.

“Our employees are going to be very well treated,” Boren said, noting that they will, however, be Corix employees, not on OU’s payroll. “That was important to us. We didn’t want to contract out and have something happen to our employees.”

Boren also said employee compensation packages through Corix will be comparable to university wages and benefits.

“It’s kind of a win-win, we think,” Boren said.

In other business, the board also approved plans for a fifth office facility for OU research programs at Five Partners Place on the University Research Campus.

Three research facilities already have been completed and space at the fourth filled even before breaking ground, along with an overflow in demand.

The approximately 100,000-square-foot building will be in the vicinity of the Stephenson Research and Technology Center, Stephenson Life Sciences Research Center and the previously completed buildings.

According to the meeting agenda, the funding is expected to flow from general revenue bonds.

The board also approved reducing faculty and staff membership rates from $20 to $10 at the SJ Sarkeys Complex, Huston Huffman Fitness Center and Murray Case Sells Swim Complex, which will be effective Sunday.

“This is one way of saying thank you,” Boren said of university faculty and staff, whose workload is heavier after a two-year running universitywide hiring freeze.

Nanette Light 366-3541 nlight@normantranscript.com

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