Survey: Universities favor building repair over new construction

By: Chrissy Ragan, Staff Writer
Daily Texan
July 25, 2001

Michael Broadbent/Daily Texan Staff

Working outside of the new Psychology Child Development and Family Relationships Building, Jesse Ramirez grinds away the extra length on the iron rods that surround the east side of the building.

Though a national study released this week shows that repairing old buildings on college campuses instead of constructing new ones is becoming standard nationwide, the University's mix of refurbishment and new building projects runs contrary to the trend.

The study, released at the annual meeting of the Society for College and University Planning, finds that colleges and universities are focusing more of their efforts toward renovating older buildings in an effort to cut costs amidst the economic slowdown.

Conducted by Cutler Associates, an architecture and construction firm based in Worcester, Mass., the study included responses from more than 100 college and university planners.

However, Bob Rawski, senior project manager at UT System's Office of Facilities Planning and Construction, said the University does not mirror the nationwide trend.

"We have on average two dozen projects going on at all times half are in design and half are in construction," Rawski said. "Looking at the list now, half are new projects, and half are renovations."

Rawski said many current UT projects, which range from $1 million to $52 million in cost, have been "on the books" for some time. The UT System's Capital Improvement Plan, which includes proposed UT construction projects, is updated every two years to re-evaluate each of the 15 universities' needs.

The survey shows that during hard times, three out of four college planners would abandon construction projects, and more than 65 percent of respondents said renovation plans would be cut or reduced.

Rawski said many current renovations at the University are fire and life safety improvements including installing updated fire alarms and sprinklers.

"Before, grandfathering was allowed," Rawski said. "Now, all older buildings need to be brought up to current codes."

Grandfathered buildings only have to uphold standards from when they were first constructed.

Other ongoing projects include the Psychology and Child Development Building which will hopefully be occupied by next summer, Rawski said and renovations to the Frank Erwin Center, the Harry Ransom Center and the original Student Health Center.

An example of a project still in its design stage, Rawski said, is the plan for several outdoor pools to be built behind Gregory Gym.

"We're still in the process of evaluating," Rawski said. "Every project is different."

Recently completed projects include the San Jacinto Dormitory and several new parking garages one at the south end and two at the north end of campus.

At the July 10 meeting of the UT Board of Regents Finance and Planning Committee, a proposal allocated $317 million towards the completion of existing projects at the University, while $144 million was allotted to new projects.

The addition of fire sprinklers, improvements to exit pathways and other modifications to the Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium is estimated to cost $10 million.

Just under $7 million is allotted to renovate and expand several buildings at the J.J. Pickle Research Campus, located eight miles north of the University's main campus.

An additional $2 million will continue renovation of the Texas Swim Center, including changes necessary to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and fire and life safety requirements.