Capital Project Approval Process

This policy outlines the University’s procedures for reviewing and approving capital improvement projects.  Such projects include new construction, renovations, infrastructure and information technology improvements that serve to enhance the physical assets of the University.

Reasons for Policy

The purpose of this policy is to:

  • Provide for consistent documentation of capital project proposals, which defines the purpose, scope, budget, funding source, operating budget impact, schedule and other project details
  • Establish appropriate levels of approval for capital projects
Primary Guidance to which this Policy Responds

There is not a primary policy to which this policy responds. It is consistent with best practices.

Responsible University Offices/Officers

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is responsible for the maintenance of this policy, and for responding to questions regarding this policy. The Budget Director of Capital Planning is the Responsible Officer.

Who is Governed by This Policy

All University staff and officers who play a role in the approval and execution of capital projects.

Who Should Know this Policy

Senior Executive Officers, Deans, Vice Presidents, Senior Administrative Officers, Departmental

Exclusions and Special Situations

The University Trustees, President, Senior Executive Vice President, as a situation warrants and at their discretion, may override this policy.

Policy Text


Capital spending at Columbia is guided by the University’s rolling Capital Plan, which is reviewed periodically by the University Trustees. The Capital Plan includes three categories of spending:

  • Active projects - projects that have been through the Capital Project Approval process and have been authorized to proceed
  • Planned projects - projects that have already been accepted into the Plan presented to the Trustees, but have not yet been through the Capital Project Approval process
  • SOGR programs – annual programs that have already been accepted into the Plan presented to the Trustees and are part of either the Morningside Columbia University Facilities (CUF) or the Columbia University Medical Center Facilities (CUMC Facilities) state-of-good-repair programs (SOGR)

For active and planned projects, spending cannot occur until the individual project has been through the approval process outlined in this document. For SOGR programs, approval is granted each year by the Trustees for the following fiscal year’s spending when the annual Operating Plan and Capital Budget is approved. The policy outlined below is used: (1) to guide projects from “planned” to “active” and (2) to add new projects to the Plan. It does not apply to SOGR program spending.

Project Initiation

CUF and CUMC Facilities initiate and manage all “bricks and mortar” capital projects on the Morningside, Manhattanville and Medical Center Campuses. Information technology (IT) projects may be managed by CUIT, or another administrative department such as Finance or Human Resources, depending on the scope and purpose of the project.

Capital projects include new construction, renovations and infrastructure improvements that serve to enhance the physical assets of the University as well as large equipment purchases and improvements in major information systems. The request for a capital project can be initiated by a school, department, institute, center or by the Central University – hereafter referred to as the Client – via an online project request form. The request should briefly identify the purpose and need of the project, as well as define any associated goals or objectives. It should also briefly discuss the general scope, space identified for the project, funding strategy, schedule, and special requirements or considerations.


Project Definition & Preliminary Design

Once transmitted to CUF or CUMC Facilities, all project requests undergo an initial categorization process in which the feasibility of the project is evaluated. If they are deemed viable, projects move first to the Project Definition phase, and then to the Preliminary Design phase. These two preliminary phases consist of the following actions:


Once it has been determined that a feasibility study is required, the Client is provided with a Project Authorization Form that must be signed and returned to CUF or CUMC Facilities. Once the total anticipated cost of the project is identified, a Project Document or Project Authorization Form is prepared to obtain approval from OMB, the Capital Budget Issues Committee (BIss) and the Physical Assets Committee of the Trustees as required.


The documentation and level of approval required is governed by the total anticipated cost of the project. An exception may be made in cases where the project consists only of a study or schematic design, which will inform the development of a capital project at a later date. In this case, it is the total cost of the study that determines the necessary documentation and level of approval. Documentation is prepared by the executor of the project – CU Facilities for Morningside and Manhattanville “bricks and mortar” projects, CUMC Facilities for “bricks and mortar” projects on the CUMC campus and CUIT for Information Technology projects.

  • Projects with a total project cost up to and including $50,000 and projects greater than $50,000 that are not capital in nature: Projects in this category should be expensed, as per the guidelines of the Controller’s Office, and are not considered to be “capital” projects. Please refer to the “Definitions” section at the end of this document for information on determining whether or not an expense can be capitalized. Projects in this category require a Project Authorization Form, a one-page document which briefly describes the scope of work, project budget and any impact to the operating budget that will result from the project. 
  • Projects with a total project cost above $50,000 but less than $250,000 and funded with departmental funds: Projects in this category are considered to be “capital” projects and require a Project Authorization Form.
  • Projects with a total project cost of $250,000 and above and any project requiring debt funding: Projects in this category require a Capital Project Document. The project document is composed of twelve categories: