Alumni Hall renovations delayed at least 2 years

Because of the cost of renovations to Founders Hall, the planned renovations for Alumni Hall are going to be delayed.

The renovations are part of the 21st Century Buildings Plan, which set a path to update the original campus buildings — Founders, Alumni, Rendleman, Dunham and Peck Halls as well as Lovejoy Library. 

While the 21st Century Buildings Plan originally called for 20 years of renovations, it doesn’t seem like the university will be hitting that target.

The original time frame was based upon each building’s square footage estimates, not actual designs, according to Vice Chancellor for Administration Rich Walker. Because of that, the cost of renovations to Founders was higher than the university originally anticipated.

“Since it’s a pay-as-you go program, we will have to save up more money for each building, presumably, in order to start the renovation work,” Walker said. “So, we were able to do Founders and finish that up, but won’t be able to save up enough money in time to what I think Alumni is going to cost.”

Campus architect and architectural manager Roberto Canessa said that, due to the building’s age, all of the buildings’ power, heating, ventilation and seismic infrastructures need to be updated. All of the buildings were built between 1965 and 1969.

“They’re 50-year-old buildings. Their infrastructure, at least for utilities, will have to be renovated. We’ll end up with a much more efficient set up than what we have now. You have an advancement of 50 years of technology,” Canessa said.

As of now, Director of Facilities Management Craig Holan said there would most likely be a two to three year gap between the completion of Founders and the beginning of more thorough design work on Alumni. 

Holan estimated a four-year cycle for each building when design and construction for each project is taken into account — assuming there are no gaps between renovations. He also said the university is looking at a two or three year gap between the renovations on Founders and Alumni Halls. 

With no other gaps to build up funding, that time frame puts the completion of the 21st century building project finishing in 2042 instead of 2038.

Since the two buildings are so similar, Walker estimated the costs for renovating Alumni would be close to the same as the costs for renovating Founders. Holan said the final estimate of the renovation costs before contractors bid on the project was $34.4 million.

The Board of Trustees originally approved an estimated cost of $34.1 million in 2017, but Holan said Facilities Management is allowed to go 10 percent over budget, up to $37.51 million. Holan also said that when funds are budgeted for the project, Facilities Management includes money set aside as a contingency for unexpected costs. If those funds aren’t needed, Holan said the project will come in under the budget the board set for it.

Walker explained the change in cost estimates at different stages of the design process like someone asking an architect to design a house.

“For example, if you wanted me to build you a 1,500-square-foot house, I could give you a range based on 1,500 square feet and what I think the construction industry is charging people right now,” Walker said. “But, as we get into it and you want a more sophisticated air conditioning system, oh, that’s actually something different. Or you find out after you get into it that there’s an open mine under your house, that’s going to be something different. You don’t find out those things until you get in preliminary and final design.”

Canessa said the difference in the first estimates and actual design estimates could be due to changes in the cost of construction, or because of the scope of the renovations needed on the buildings.

“What we looked at this time around was to replace pretty much all the major systems — and I mean replace, even those that were underground, under the floors and everything. We’ll have, system-wise, a brand new building,” Canessa said.

Holan cited changes in the seismic code requirements as one of the more expensive updates the university is making to these buildings. According to Holan, the brick stairwells at the corner of the buildings serve as more than just another way to get around each building. Holan said each of the towers acts as a stiffener — something to help stabilize the buildings in case of an earthquake.

“If you look at Founders, on the east side — the side facing University Drive, with the lake — those are replacement towers that we tore down, but we built towers right back into place, and those are stairwells,” Holan said. “On the west side, those are new towers — there used to just be insets there — and that’s what houses a lot of this mechanical equipment on each floor.”

New building, new delays

Walker said the addition of a new health sciences building, for which funds were appropriated in the Rebuild Illinois capital spending plan this year, will most likely push back the construction of Alumni Hall even further. The funding for the building has been appropriated by the state, but has not been given to the university. 

“Even if the state gave us the money now, it’s still gonna be three, four years before we’d actually open the health sciences building,” Walker said. “During that time we could be designing Alumni, but [renovation] could be five, six years out instead of three years out.”

Part of the reason Walker said the university will likely wait to renovate Alumni is that the nursing program, which is currently located in Alumni, would move to the new health sciences building. That would mean less swing space — the designated areas where displaced departments and classes are held — would be required for Alumni than the Founders renovation needed. 

This means the renovations could be done all at once instead of in two parts, which could save the university money on labor costs. According to Holan, the renovation of Founders Hall has been split into two parts, with each part renovating two floors at a time.

“If we don’t have to work around people, it’s quicker, it’s probably less expensive and more efficient. That might mean Alumni gets done quicker, at a lower cost potentially, which then lets us get started on the next one sooner,” Holan said.

For example, Holan said one way the university could save money on the renovations with an empty building would be the temperature of the construction site. Without other users in the building, the heat and air conditioning could be set at lower or higher levels, respectively, to lower costs.

Canessa said the fact Facilities Management was unable to move all of Founders’ residences into swing space at one time, made the renovation more costly.

“That’s what’s really been hurting us,” Canessa said. “We did add about 45,000 square feet of swing space inside Science East and the Vadalabene Center, but we were short about 10,000. So, we’re making do with things, and doing things we wouldn’t otherwise have to do.”

Canessa said he couldn’t pinpoint the exact benefit of getting the construction done all at once, but said it would be better for tenants and for the project’s budget.

“There is an impact, I couldn’t tell you exactly how much, but there is definitely an impact in having to do it in phases, not only to the cost itself, but also to the occupants of the building. Ideally, we would not have anyone in there, but we couldn’t do that this time around.”

Despite the timeline setbacks, Walker said the factors involved in the renovations are like a sliding puzzle.

“It’s a lot of moving parts in order to make the final picture,” Walker said. “It’ll be a good picture. It just might take a while.”

The Alestle will continue to update as developments on the 21st Century Buildings Project and health services buildings occur. 

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