The University of Massachusetts Building Authority will go to market this week with a $270 million bond sale to benefit capital projects at the system's five campuses statewide.
"We've got a lot of exciting things going on with this bond sale," Katherine Craven, the authority's executive director, said in an interview.
JPMorgan is lead manager for the bond sale.
Retail sale is Wednesday, institutional Thursday for the roughly $198.4 million in Series 2013-1 tax-exempt bonds and $71.7 million in taxable bonds. Craven anticipates about $50 million from retail.
UMass has its main campus in Amherst with others in Boston, Dartmouth, Lowell and Worcester. UMass Online is also part of the system.
Craven, who came to the agency early in 2012, has crafted a new borrowing strategy amid a low interest-rate environment.
"We're trying to be strategic in our borrowing. The traditional way of borrowing at the authority lent itself to capitalized interest and we're trying to avoid that," she said.
"All of our projects are mission critical," she said.
The authority is doubling its taxable debt to roughly $71 million, but Craven added: "There's a good reason. The rates are low."
The authority has roughly $1.9 billion in debt outstanding overall.
Standard & Poor's rated the bonds AA-minus, while Moody's Investors Service and Fitch Ratings assigned Aa2 and AA ratings, respectively.
According to Standard & Poor's analyst Blake Cullimore, the rating reflects the university system's general obligation pledge, support from the commonwealth and "the system's historically solid and sustained operating performance."
While the rating agencies cited rising debt as a challenge, they also praised the system's operating performance. "UMass' leverage is expected to remain high under its substantial five-year capital plan," Fitch said in its report. "[But] current levels remain manageable, given the university's steady financial performance."
"We are extremely pleased that the ratings agencies have taken note of our focus on efficiency, effectiveness and accountability and are very optimistic about this bond offering," said Robert Caret, is in his third year as president of the UMass system after holding the same title at Towson and San Jose State universities.
Craven previously ran the Massachusetts School Building Authority, where she oversaw a financial and management overhaul to a multibillion-dollar reimbursement and funding program for school construction projects.
UMass projects, according to Craven, could generate partnerships with businesses, such as the construction and build-out of the Emerging Technologies and Innovation Center at UMass-Lowell. In November, Waltham, Mass.-based Raytheon Co. collaborated with the school in an educational partnership in Kuwait.
UMass-Dartmouth, along New Bedford's coast near Cape Cod, plans to build a biomanufacturing building. "That will generate interest among private businesses. That's good for Dartmouth, good for the region," said Craven. UMass-Dartmouth also recently had a major library addition and renovation.
In Worcester, the acquisition of a laboratory facility known as "Biotech IV" will enable the UMass Medical School, which just opened the $400 million Albert Sherman Center, to further expand in that city.
The offering would also provide funding for the final phase of the $185 million Commonwealth Honors College academic and residential complex in Amherst, expected to open in September.
About $60 million of tax-exempt proceeds will cover roughly half the cost of improving roadways along its Boston campus, which sits on the Columbia Point peninsula in the Dorchester neighborhood.
According to vice president for strategic communications Robert Connolly, UMass has spent $2.4 billion on capital projects on the five campuses over the past decade. During that time, he added, enrollment has spiked from 58,000 to 70,000, or 21%.
Last fall, UMass trustees approved a $3.1 billion spending plan for capital projects over five years.
"Figuratively speaking, we've added a campus worth of students," said Connolly. "We want to maintain and build upon this momentum with this bond offering and with future issuances."
Craven said the authority intends to go to the market more frequently. It plans to issue about $200 million of commercial paper later this year, possibly by the end of the summer.