Hurricanes to impact university projects

Northern Kentucky University administrators are concerned that the recent hurricanes will have an effect on the cost of the building and labor for the new Student Union project.

Several building materials have already seen significant price increases and long delays in delivery.

“Normally after a major natural disaster the passing few weeks (or) months allow the market to settle back to normal; however, in this case the destruction and the area impacted is so large it is anticipated that the market will remain volatile for several months, possibly up to two years.” said Larry Blake, NKU assistant vice president for Facilities Management.

Labor, materials and the cost of natural gas are only some of the expenses that are rising.

“I do believe the cost impact is real,” Blake said. “It is simply a function of supply and demand.”

Not only will the cost of construction be affected, but also routine operations as well. For example, the loss of supply lines in the Gulf coast during Hurricane Katrina has caused natural gas prices to increase 50 percent this winter.

“The impact of Katrina is national, NKU will feel the same financial pain all other organizations and individuals will experience.” Blake said.

According to Mary Paula Schuh, director of Campus Planning at NKU, bid prices might be higher than the estimated $26.6 million. The overall project scope is $34 million, she said. The price difference reflects the costs of kitchen equipment, furniture and technology expenses, and the rest being design fees and contingencies.

“We hope to have the building complete sometime in the fall of 2007,” Schuh said in an email interview. “If the bids come within budget, construction could begin in December.”

Elsewhere in the United States, Katrina and other hurricanes have caused setbacks on school construction. According to the Baltimore Sun, several Maryland schools have been affected. Plans for the renovation of Baltimore’s School for the Arts have been delayed. David Lever, the executive director of the state’s Public School Construction Program, said the cost per square foot of construction has raised about $50.

Middle Tennessee State University’s bid for their recreation center expansion project was almost $5 million over budget. Patti Miller, Director of Campus Planning at MTSU, told the school newspaper that the high construction bid was due to the economic effects of hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Other NKU projects may also experience difficulties because of the hurricanes.

The demand by students for housing this year was the highest it has ever been.

Peter Trentacoste, the associate director of residential life at NKU, says the impact of the hurricane is something housing will consider before taking on the new housing project that is being advocated.

“That’s the reality. We need to build more housing. Student are in support of that,” said Trentacoste.

The NKU lake renovation is not being affected because the bid was set before the hurricanes occurred. No costs have changed.

According to Blake, the Student Union is being paid for with a student building fee that is part of tuition. The fees will be used to pay the debt payments on the bonds that will be sold to pay for the construction.

The only other contributor is Chartwells, NKU’s food service vendor. They have contributed $3 million dollars toward the project. There is no state money being used for the project.

Pat McGinnis, a sophomore education major, is concerned that the rise in the price of the SU may increase tuition significantly. “It is just taking away from funds that could be spent elsewhere in improving the university, such as more parking or more academic buildings,” McGinnis said.

Student Government President Jen Perry feels the same about the tuition. “I understand there could be concern for the projected cost because the price of resources has gone up,” Perry said. “I am 100 percent sure we need this building to be built despite material cost, unless it is so high that it falls back onto the students.”

Steve Meier, the assistant dean of students, said he is looking forward to the building. “Students really need this,” Meier said.

The University Center was built in 1977 when the university had 5,000 students. “The cafeteria, meeting rooms and offices are all used to capacity, so a new building was more than justified,” Schuh said.

Some of the offices in the UC will stay: Health, Counseling, and Testing; Retention; the Northerner; Student Media; Adult Student Services; Post Office; and the Bookstore, although the Bookstore will be fully renovated.

“NKU has big plans for the Student Union,” Meier said.

It will be built on Parking Lot A, and will be 30 feet from the end of the University Center. The first floor will contain the ballroom, which will seat 650 people for dinner, or 900 people for a lecture. These rooms will also have sliding screens for projectors. There will also be meeting rooms and game rooms on this floor.

The second floor is the food service area. It will be a market-place concept, having such options as Mexican, Italian, hot foods (carved ham, meatloaf, fried chicken), deli, soup, grill, an emporium, bakery and smoothie center, a star bucks and more.

On the third floor there are offices. Student Life, International Student Affairs, African American Student Affairs, Student Government and the Dean of Students will all have their own location. The Student Involvement Center will be on the third floor as well. Each floor will have several skylights and atriums.