BY TONI LIVINGSTON
$14 million that have been spent on the college’s “Master Plan Phase III Renovations and Additions” are now being revised because of a lack of funding, according to school officials.
The state initially granted $36 million to complete Phase III, which includes renovating the PepsiCo Theatre, constructing a student activities center/new cafeteria, and a bridge conjoining the East and West campuses, according to Rose Ellis, the Dean of Administration.
Ellis said that the Department of Construction Services contracted Mitchell and Giurgola Architects with $3.5 million to design the Phase’s plans.
The remaining $11.5 million was spent on other “soft costs” or pre-construction preparations.
“There are other costs that have to be picked up… asbestos remediation, looking at the soil, engineers–people that need to come in and prepare before actual construction,” said Ellis.
The Department of Construction Services and Board of Regents are reviewing the Phase’s latest designs and so far have found that the remaining $22 million cannot cover its construction costs, according to President Levinson.
“What [the department of construction] has found on the first pass is that there is not enough money to do what is being designed at the present time, which is good and bad,” said Levinson.
The “bad” is that funding is tied, according to Levinson.
Ellis says that Mitchell and Giurgola, Whiting-Turner Contracting Company, a principal firm, and the department of
a principal firm, and the department of construction services are working together to revise the designs and accommodate the budget.
“They are doing what is called value engineering, so they look at designs that are not critical to the project that could be taken out to put [the designs] within the budget,” said Ellis.
Although Dean Ellis has not been notified about extra charges for the future revisions, she said that “it wouldn’t surprise me”.
This also happened with the Health and Science building plans, which were also made by Mitchell and Giurgola, according to Ellis.
Ellis also said that the building’s initial three story plans had to be reviewed and reduced to two stories to fit within the roughly $40 million budget.
“That building at one point was only two floors, we ended up getting money for construction from our Foundation, $2.3 million…we needed the three floors,” said Ellis.
The “good news” is that the design revisions may leave room for the reallocation of the $22 million construction funds, according to President Levinson.
“What I’m hoping is that if we don’t do the bridge we have savings there, some of which we can put into the student center…hopefully we can also get some more resources to build a two story student commons,” said Levinson.
Some of the college’s faculty and students also said that the student center needed redesigning and funding. According to Levinson, he has been meeting with Norwalk residents to find alternate solutions to the bridge or abandon it altogether.
However, Levinson said that the “danger” with the reallocation plan is that the bonding commission, the board of government officials that is responsible for funding Phase III, may not do so because of the state’s fiscal climate.
“As the state is going through its budget concerns and problems, there is a chance that the bonding commission may not meet, there have been times when they haven’t met,” said Levinson.
The State Bond commission reviews, approves and funds public building projects by selling bonds. The funding that these bonds provide is separate from the state funding which operates the school. The commission meets monthly to decide on these projects.
Ellis agreed that Phase III is in limbo until the construction funds are bonded.
“We have not gone to the bond commission yet for the $22 million…so none of this is happening until that money is bonded,” said Ellis.
While the commission’s February meeting was cancelled, Dean Ellis hopes that the upcoming March meeting will resolve the funding set back.
“We should know by sometime in March what the actual [funding] breakdown will be,” said Ellis.
Also, the design revisions will possibly give faculty and students a chance for their input to be taken into consideration.
While Brandon Wolfe, the Vice President of Theatre Club, said that the theatre and bridge plans are good, he thought the student center needed adjustments.
“It looks like a seating chart a.k.a. a cafeteria with structured seating rather than a lounge where people can hang and relax…I think it should have more compartments a little more split up…something more comfortable than just these seats,” said Wolfe.
Zygimantas Sakalauskas, 19 year old student and Phi Theta Kappa’s Vice President of Leadership, said that the bridge is not worth the amount of money that will be spent. Also, Sakalauskas said that a renovated cafeteria is needed, but it should be separate from the student center.
“I think in general there should be a place for students to study, socialize and create a community as opposed to a glorified cafeteria,” said Sakalauskas.
Lois Aime, the Director of Educational Technology, said that the student center should be the priority with the fund reallocation. She also said that she is concerned about the energy efficiency of the center’s high ceiling in the last designs.
“Putting a ceiling in an area that high and large makes it rather difficult to heat, to cool so more electricity will be spent on it, and it has a tendency to make sound louder,” said Amie.
In the last designs, the student center/cafeteria had a higher ceiling and glass walls.
Jacek Bigosinski, the faculty coordinator of architectural and construction technology, said that he and the college’s committee to ensure carbon neutrality question the center’s energy efficiency.
“We have our concerns too about the cost of heating and cooling actually going up even though we close the campus on Sundays to reduce the cost, it costs a couple $100,000 a year for heating and cooling…is ” said Bigosinksi.
Bigosinski said that students should campaign more to ensure the center is LEED certified, just as past students and faculty did for the Health and Science building even when state officials said it wasn’t needed.
LEED is a program that ensures buildings are energy, resource and environmentally efficient.
“If it wasn’t for the students here at NCC and faculty I don’t think that would have happened…it wasn’t the law then, now they have to have buildings LEED certified,” said Bigosinski.
Dean Ellis said that all of Phase III has to be LEED certified but the cost hasn’t been decided yet. Additionally, Ellis said that once she and Levinson view the plans, they will hold a public forum to discuss the future project.
“We’re supposed to have a public forum here soon and we’re waiting for the department of construction services to tell us when we’re gonna have it so we can show the new plans,” Ellis said.