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UW Trustees Act on Construction Projects

March 27, 2015

The University of Wyoming Board of Trustees voted today (Friday) to use $11.5 million in operating reserves and other UW resources to complete the renovation and expansion of the Buchanan Center for the Performing Arts and the Half Acre Recreation and Wellness Center.

Additionally, trustees were told that the second phase of renovations to UW’s Arena-Auditorium will be delayed by about a year because projected construction costs under the current design exceed the funding available for the project.

The issues have prompted a review of the university’s capital facilities construction processes and closer involvement by the Board of Trustees in approving construction change orders for major projects. Adjusting those processes and replenishing university reserves will be top priorities moving forward, Vice President for Administration Bill Mai says.

“The good news is that these projects will move ahead and result in excellent facilities that will enhance the campus for our students, employees and visitors,” Mai says. “But we are taking steps to prevent similar issues with future projects. This is not something we intend to repeat.”

The Performing Arts Center project, which is nearly complete, includes 113.795 gross square feet of renovation of portions of the existing Fine Arts building, along with 66,256 square feet of new construction. The new space includes a 256-seat Thrust Theatre and a 100-seat Recital Hall. Other new spaces include band/orchestra and choral rehearsal halls, and a second dance studio. The original project cost was pegged at $35 million.

The board voted to authorize $9 million in UW Section I operating reserves to cover $7 million in increased costs and $2 million in unrealized private contributions for the Performing Arts Center. Of that $9 million, $1.5 million must be spent on furniture, fixtures and equipment associated with the project.

The first phase of the Half Acre project was completed earlier this month. It includes three floors of new weight room and cardio equipment; a 38-foot-high rock climbing and bouldering wall; a multi-activity court that can be used for a variety of intramural, club and recreational sports; a spinning room with audiovisual projection screens; a dance studio; a “mind and body” studio for meditation/yoga; academic space for theater and dance, and kinesiology and health classes; four new racquetball courts; expanded Outdoor Program space and new locker rooms. The second phase of the project has begun and includes remodeling the facility’s historic west portion, lengthening the existing third-floor track to one-eighth of a mile, and renovating the swimming pool. The original combined cost of the two phases was $27 million.

The trustees voted to authorize an additional $2.5 million to complete the Half Acre project. Of that amount, $2 million will come from UW Section I operating reserves and $500,000 from other university resources.

The higher-than-expected costs for the Performing Arts Center and Half Acre relate to problems with design of the projects, resulting in longer construction timelines, and other issues including high construction demand in the region.

“The university is pursuing all remedies to address these issues,” Mai says.

The delay of the second phase of the Arena-Auditorium renovation, meanwhile, will allow the university to assess the project and its funding to assure that it achieves the desired result. Plans call for an addition to the east side of the facility, a new entrance, improvements to concessions stands and restrooms, and potentially a club seating area.

Bids came in about $3 million over estimates for what was an already-reduced design, Mai says.

“This delay until after the 2015-16 basketball season will give us time to re-evaluate the details of the project and, if necessary, pursue additional funding,” Mai says. “We weren’t going to start on a project that we knew would not meet our expectations and those of the lawmakers and private donors who have invested so much. We are confident this extra time will give us the ability to design and build what all of us want to see.”

The first phase of the Arena-Auditorium project, completed earlier this year, involved changes to the seating and floor in the basketball arena, along with new locker room and team areas.

Before the university proceeds with the second phase of the Arena-Auditorium project, as well as a planned major expansion of the Rochelle Athletic Center, the UW administration will submit recommendations “regarding the manner and process under which the university shall pursue completion” of those projects, according to a motion approved by the board.

“The board’s intention is to ensure that these projects are constructed so as to meet the needs of users of the facilities and the expectations of the donors within budget,” the trustees said in their motion.

On another construction-related matter, the board approved a guaranteed maximum price of $42.9 million for the High Bay Research Facility, for which ground was broken earlier this month. The construction manager at-risk for that project is Haselden Wyoming Constructors.

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