Colleges spend big to look cool
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Instead, they hope to be living in well-equipped dorms full of modern conveniences and to attend classes in lecture halls with high-speed Internet connections and video hookups.Skip to next paragraph
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They also want the assurance that they are getting the most for their money in terms of technological skills and knowledge that can be used in the workforce.
"Students are demanding more," says Bob Meadows, assistant vice president for facilities and the university architect for Indiana University in Bloomington, Ind., where design on an 800-unit housing facility is in progress.
"They want to see visuals in class, and they want to be connected to the Net," he says. "Students just expect that, and we have to deliver."
Universities also need to find space for emerging programs, says Steve Westfall, president of Tradeline Inc., a California-based company that helps facilities planners gather information and resources for new building projects. In some cases, these programs can be housed in existing buildings, but usually they require new facilities.
A lab built in the 1960s, for example, isn't equipped to handle programs like nanotechnology, or even computer science.
Aside from new construction, common upgrades on campuses include adding air conditioning and sprinkler systems, putting in new windows, and installing structured wiring.
Renovations related to the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, such as adding wheelchair ramps, are also widespread, says Alan Greenberger, a principal with MGA Architects in Philadelphia.
"There are a myriad of [ADA requirements] old buildings tend not to meet," says Mr. Greenberger. "You wouldn't renovate because of these ... but by law [the building] must meet these codes once you do a certain percentage of renovation."
Despite the need for campus additions and improvements, it's not clear whether the current "boom" will continue.
Funding for most current projects - which typically comes from some combination of private donations, state grants, and bonds - was secured five years ago, says Mr. Westfall. But today, states are more wary of the economic climate and are not quick to allocate funds for construction, he says.
Furthermore, the cost of construction materials increased 10 percent in 2004, according to Ken Simonson, chief economist with the Association of General Contractors of America, forcing many universities to scale back or abandon plans.
SOU falls into that category. Higher construction costs pushed the library project $3.2 million over budget.
As a result, funding was cut for an expansion and remodeling of a theater building. At the same time, square footage of the new student center was reduced, and high-end materials were replaced with less expensive varieties.
Construction on the housing building was deferred, requiring contractors to work six days a week to finish by the 2005 fall term - a necessity if the university is to earn back building-related expenses through student housing fees. The tradeoff, unfortunately, is higher year-to-year maintenance costs.
"The buildings will not fall down. They are still durable," says Mr. Bolstad. "But in order to proceed with construction, we have had to sacrifice some of the cost of efficiently maintaining [them]."