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Costs Lead to Slowdown in Dorm Renovations

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Increased materials and labor costs have blown the roof off of construction estimates and taken University residence hall renovation and construction off its building timeline for the first time in 21 years, departing from an aggressive fast track in the works since 2005.

Ram Village Apartments, finished in fall 2006, cost $18 million more than was budgeted because material and labor costs increased 30 to 40 percent, said Larry Hicks, director of housing and residential education. The planned renovation for Hinton James, the 40-year-old, 10-story high-rise with space for 740 students on South Campus, was estimated to cost $26 million. A more recent estimate rounded out to $37 million. Because of the higher numbers, Hinton James stayed open for students this fall, undergoing only minor renovations during the summer, and 21-year-old Carmichael dorm closed for renovations.

Over the next two years, Hinton James was supposed to close and receive full rewiring for increased electrical capacity, central air conditioning, energy-efficient window installation and a sprinkler system for fire safety. After a change of plans, James was kept open and received renovations including railing replacement, air conditioning in 65 percent of the building, an electrical system upgrade and lighting. The design for the building’s sprinkler system also is under way, Hicks said.

“In the last three years, the cost of construction has gone up substantially, so everyone is affected,” said Bruce Runberg, associate vice chancellor for facilities planning. “Different entities have a different ability to come up with funding, and so we’ve seen varying degrees of reduction of our major University programs.”

Construction supplies dwindled because of pressures from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Hurricane Katrina reconstruction as well as increased buying of supplies by the Chinese government. The causes for inflation are common knowledge in the industry, Runberg said.

“The prices have been set, and they’ve all been set higher,” Hicks said, identifying steel, concrete and wood as material sources of inflation. “Labor started creeping up because of all the projects in the state, but what really hit us was the cost of materials.

“Hinton James and, frankly, all the high-rises – they were built in the late ’60s, and their design and use are limited” and thus in need of renovation, Hicks said. Morrison, the other 10-floor residence hall, is reopening this fall after two years of work costing $24 million. Hicks said the Morrison was “out of the chute” before inflation hit.

The Department of Housing and Residential Education has followed a renovation plan since 1986 of closing residence halls and completing thorough renovations taking one or two years. Typically, at least one building is undergoing complete renovations at any time. “It’s a never-ending cycle,” he said.

In 2000 and 2001, the department was able to become especially aggressive in its renovations and construction when the campus gained 965 extra bed spaces as four new residence halls opened on South Campus.

The department is on a fixed budget, funded by dorm rent, which limits its ability to adjust to cost inflation. Hicks said he did not have an estimate for when construction would get back on track.

Housing officials are asking the state for funds to help speed the pace of renovations that, for one thing, would enable them to equip older residence halls with sprinkler systems. Once James has sprinklers, 14 residence halls still would be without them: Avery, Craige, Ehringhaus, Everett, Grimes, Lewis, Mangum, Manly, Odum Village (currently being used for overflow during the high-rise renovations), Parker, Ruffin, Stacy, Teague and Whitehead.


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