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Projects cause campus detours

Fri., Aug. 11, 2006

PULLMAN – Bonnie Scoles and her colleagues in Washington State University’s CougarCard Center are getting used to being a little less centralized.

Like everyone else who typically calls the Compton Union Building home, they’ve been moved into temporary digs while the CUB is torn down and renovated. Scoles’ office, which provides students with ID cards that authorize everything from meal plans to library checkouts, is tucked into a ground-floor office in the Washington Building on the south side of campus. Other services such as the post office, student organizations and food services are also in temporary homes until the new CUB opens in 2008.

“It’s going to be a little bit less convenient for some students because we’re not in the center of campus,” said Scoles, the interim associate director of finance for administrative services.

The demolition of the CUB is just one of several campus projects under way as the Aug. 21 start of classes draws near. Crews are also excavating the foundation for a new life sciences building, moving earth for an expanded golf course, and putting in the lights at a new set of tennis courts. All told, projects budgeted at more than $164 million are under way, and there’s a lot more to come, with the bulk of work on a renovation of Martin Stadium to start next year.

“Last year we were in the planning stage for all this work, so it was just as busy, all on paper,” said Keith Bloom, director of construction services and quality assurance for WSU. “This year, it’s really pedal to the metal everywhere.”

Bloom said the WSU projects are facing the same issues dogging contractors all over the region: sharp increases in the price of materials like steel and copper, limited supplies of concrete and too few workers to go around.

He said WSU projects have been coming in roughly 12 percent above budget. The low bid for the upcoming $10 million remodel of Rotunda Dining was about $1 million over budget, he said, and only two firms submitted bids.

“That’s where the whole escalation factor kicked us in the teeth,” he said.

The CUB project is the biggest job, in terms of dollars and campus disruption. The building, which went up in 1951 with an addition in 1967, is being demolished now, with piles of glass and steel sitting behind safety fences that occupy about half the walking mall at the center of campus.

“We’re leaving the bones,” Bloom said, patting a concrete column on a recent tour of the site. “But everything else is coming out.”

The expanded, renovated CUB will reopen in 2008, and WSU officials are hoping to earn green certification by using sustainable and efficient materials and practices. Most of the $86 million budget is coming from an increase in student fees, which are also being used to pay for a large part of renovations of Martin Stadium, which begin in earnest next year.

The renovation also means that the Wilson Road turnaround will be shut down, eliminating one of the main access points.

“The turnaround here is a really big drop-off and pickup point,” said Steve Hansen, WSU police chief.

Hansen said his officers are preparing to help guide people around the closure in the confusing early days of school.

Work is also under way at the new life sciences building, with excavation work and pile-driving being done, and the construction set to begin in earnest next year. The new building is part of a projected complex of biotechnology buildings at WSU intended to drive research efforts.

Along the outskirts of campus, in the rolling Palouse hills, is the university’s golf course, which is being taken from a 9-hole to an 18-hole course. Currently, bulldozers are pushing around tons of earth and have staked out the tee boxes and greens. “You take off the top of a hill and flop it into a low spot,” Bloom said.

The $8.4 million project is set to be open in two years. It comes with several characteristics unique to a university course – a stretch of untilled prairie that’s home to foxes will be left untouched, and a turf farm will provide research opportunities, Bloom said.

All the construction work comes amid plenty of other building in the region, from state road construction to several apartment developments in Pullman. It has made it hard for contractors to find enough workers, Bloom said.

“There’s a lot of work going on all over the Northwest, and the manpower doesn’t exist,” he said. “We have tapped out the union halls for carpenters.”


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