Machinery is buzzing and workers are back on site of the Science East building at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville — a project that was halted in mid-renovation for more than a year due to the budget stalemate in Springfield.
It had taken more than 10 years for university leaders to get the $72 million in construction funds awarded from the state to build a new science building and renovate the old one. First presented to the state’s Capital Development Board in 1999, the project was listed as SIU’s highest infrastructure priority year after year.
Finally, the $72 million was included in the 2009 capital projects bill. Construction on Science West began in 2009, and the new building opened for classes in fall 2013.
At that time, the second phase began: renovating the old science building, now known as Science East. Most classes and offices moved out of the old building to allow for renovations, and were stationed in temporary quarters across the campus. For example, the Center for STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) Research has been occupying quarters adjacent to the pool in the Vadalabene Center for athletics.
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But under state law, projects funded by the state are not managed by the local administrators, but by the state Capital Development Board. Once the state budget expired, the CDB could not appropriate funds to pay the workers, and the renovation work stopped in July 2015.
“Without a budget, they weren’t authorized to write any checks,” said Rich Walker, interim vice chancellor for administration.
Science East is a three-part building: a center core with a large lecture hall, and two wings of classrooms and offices. The center core had to remain open through the shutdown, Walker said, because 4,000 students attend classes each semester in that lecture hall and no other hall on campus was large enough to accommodate those classes.
Renovations to the central lecture hall were completed before the shutdown, installing new seating, energy-efficient lighting, Wi-Fi, wall panels and other updates.
It had taken more than 10 years for university leaders to get the $72 million in construction funds awarded from the state to build a new science building and renovate the old one.
But construction crews had already ripped out the heating and air conditioning systems before the shutdown. To prevent further deterioration and keep the building operating, the university had to hire another company to set up a temporary HVAC system outside the building and pump heat through flexible plastic tubes into the building. There have been no bathrooms or water fountains operating in the building since then, Walker said.
Funds were re-appropriated in the stopgap bill approved earlier this year. But work couldn’t start immediately, Walker said. “(Workers) weren’t standing here with hard hats on,” he said. All the contracts and change orders had to be renegotiated after the 19-month hiatus.”
Walker could not say what the additional cost might be, as the contracts were all handled by the state.
Renovations resumed in November, remodeling offices and workspace for the physics, mathematics and statistics departments, as well as the STEM center and two renovated and expanded auditoriums.
“The teaching laboratories, teaching classrooms, research laboratories and supporting spaces for these three units will be in the buildings,” said Bill Retzlaff, associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “At the end of the renovation, the two science buildings will contain safe, state-of-the-art teaching and research facilities. These facilities enhance the opportunities for cutting-edge teaching and research by faculty, and provide opportunities for more student engagement in experiential learning.”
Walker said there are concerns if the state does not have a budget or at least re-appropriate the funds in another stopgap bill by July. “If the funds aren’t re-appropriated, we will be shut down again,” he said.
But for now, construction workers are hammering away at Science East, and if nothing interferes, it will be ready for classes in fall 2018.
Walker called it the “capstone project” to more than $310 million in projects since 2006 improving the infrastructure of the campus. As it winds down, SIUE is taking a more conservative view on future projects given the uncertainty of state funding, Walker said.
“But we’re on the horizon to finish all major projects,” he said. “We need to be cautious in taking on major projects, to keep the buildings we have operating and paying our people. … It’s not a time to take on major new construction and renovations.”
We’re on the horizon to finish all major projects. We need to be cautious in taking on major projects, to keep the buildings we have operating and paying our people. … It’s not a time to take on major new construction and renovations.
SIUE Interim Vice Chancellor Rich Walker
Other projects pending at SIUE this year include:
• Replacing the green-glass blocks in the Art & Design Building with a combination of energy-efficient windows and steel. The project is partly for aesthetics and partly for energy efficiency, as well as allowing natural light without a green tint for the art students. The new design would match the glass-and-steel construction of the new Art & Design wing, constructed last year.
The project is estimated at $3.32 million, paid by the facilities fee and finished in about one year.
• An engineering student workshop addition to provide space for engineering projects such as a solar-powered car, steel bridge and concrete canoe.
A concrete canoe? “Bridge pillars have to go underwater, and they have to hold up,” Walker said. Students experiment with construction techniques and mixes of concrete that can be used underwater. “It’s the perfect test: how good do you feel about your product?” he said. “Build a canoe out of it, and get in.”
The design and fabrication bays will allow greater and safer experimentation by the engineering students, Walker said. The project is estimated at $4.39 million, funded through university plant funds and donations.
• A new dental clinic to allow students at the SIUE School of Dental Medicine in Alton to practice on real patients. The SIUE dental school is the only such school in Illinois outside the Chicago metropolitan area. It already operates low-cost dental clinics in Alton and East St. Louis, which allow the students to finish their practicum working on patients, often at a much lower cost to the client than a regular clinic.
The clinic is located in University Park, and estimated at $3 million from university plant funds and donations. Walker said it should open in March.
• A campus-wide electrical upgrade, currently in Phase II involving new transformers and underground cables. Cost: $3.5 million, paid by the facilities fee.
• Roof replacements at Woodland Hall and floor repairs in Cougar Village. Cost: $2.7 million from housing funds. Woodland Hall is completed; Cougar Village is still in the design phase.
• Phase I of a multi-year project to replace water systems and hydrants throughout the campus. Cost: $600,000, in the design phase.
• Campus sidewalks throughout the university will be replaced in phases, beginning this summer. Cost: $600,000 in university plant funds. “It’s not exciting, but it will be messy,” Walker said.
• Repairs and reconstruction of dugouts and backstops at the baseball and softball stadium. Cost: $280,000, from university plant funds.
• A new anatomy classroom in the science building. Cost: $200,000 in facility and equipment funds.
• A family restroom at the Vadalabene Center. Cost: $150,000 from the student fitness center fee.
In the post-Science Building future, the university plans a $21 million renovation of Founders and Alumni halls, two of the original classroom buildings. They will replace the electrical, mechanical and plumbing systems, install sprinklers for fire protection and seismic upgrades.
The project will be phased in over several years, as they can only do two floors at a time; there aren’t enough spare classrooms and offices in other buildings to allow them to close an entire building, Walker said. Funding for the project will come from the facilities fee approved and paid by students, Walker said.
“We use our buildings differently now than we did (when they were built,” Walker said. Of particular concern are the greater electrical needs for the modern university, and the lack of sprinklers in these buildings, which include much of the classroom space on the campus.
But that project is waiting in line after the Science East renovation is finished, Walker said.
As of January, SIUE is also purchasing 100 percent of its energy from renewable sources through energy credits, which previously made up 50 percent of SIUE’s supply.
“The university is committed to being more sustainable,” said facilities manager Paul Fuligni. “By using only renewable electricity, we have substantially reduced our carbon footprint. In addition, we are supporting further development of renewable energy resources.”
Only 40 other colleges and universities have reported 100 percent renewable electricity use to the U.S. EPA, according to SIUE. The cost of the renewable power credits is competitive with conventional energy, Fuligni said, adding no more than 1 percent to the total cost.
In the distant future, Walker said they’d like to build a health sciences complex, consolidating the nursing and pharmacy schools with other appropriate departments; and construct a new performing arts complex with a 600-seat theater and 400-seat music hall. But those projects are just concepts waiting for funding far in the future, he said.
In the meantime, there’s one project that doesn’t get big headlines, but Walker said he particularly liked. The reconstruction of the Stratton Quad this past summer required placing a low curb around the grassy center to prevent rodents from burrowing under “the Rock,” a large stone frequently redecorated by the students.
However, Walker said that curb prevented students with disabilities from participating in the long-standing tradition of painting the rock. Therefore, they’ve added a low concrete ramp to offer full access to the rock for anyone with a can of paint.
“It’s a little project with a big heart,” Walker said.