In 1962, New York officials set up the State University Construction Fund to expedite creation of the State University of New York (SUNY) campus system, double enrollment and give schools a unified appearance based on design guidelines created through coordinated master plans.
Now, more than 50 years later, the Fund has maintained its pivotal role, driving a new SUNY expansion that is helping all regions of the state recover from the recession. "When the economy is dragging behind, the Fund can be a great engine for boosting it," says William Held, the Fund's director of construction.
Before his 2008 resignation, former Gov. Eliot Spitzer, working with the state Legislature, created a 2008-2013 capital program for the Fund, which infused nearly $4.9 billion into the state economy, according to the Fund's website.
In fact, the Fund is now wrapping up two remaining projects under the program—the $38-million Computer Science Building at SUNY Stony Brook and the $63-million Stocking Hall rehabilitation at Cornell University's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. "The five-year program hit when the market was very flat," Held says. "Contractors who weren't bidding out for work changed; it made for a very aggressive bidding process because companies wanted to keep their core staff. This enabled contractors to keep their best people and put more money into communities."
Through three consecutive multiyear capital plans under two administrations over the past 10 years, some $8.3 billion was invested in capital construction to create more than 66,000 SUNY construction jobs. In routinely performing building assessment surveys through its Sightlines Data Program and then developing master plans for campuses based on the findings, the Fund has continued this momentum.
According to Held, the program captures information on a building—top to bottom, inside and out. This shows its condition and determines if needs can be resolved by critical maintenance work, such as replacing roofs and HVAC systems, or if a new "strategic initiative" is involved—typically requiring the construction of a new building. Examples include the $105-million SUNY Albany Emerging Technologies Entrepreneurship complex, set to go out for bid in December, and the $45-million School of Pharmacy at the University of Binghamton, expected to be bid next spring.
The Fund's contribution to the economy of New York and to the state and regional construction industry as well as its emphasis on project safety and on providing opportunity to small, minority and women-owned businesses have led ENR's regional editors to select it as ENR New York's 2015 Owner of the Year.
"For the past three years, the Fund has been topping out at approximately $750 million per year in projects. We've quadrupled in size over a short period of time," Held says. "We've put one new building or renovated a building on every campus in the program."
The Fund covers work at 32 campuses and now has more than 75 projects underway totaling $1.2 billion. They include the $293-million Stony Brook University Hospital Medical and Research Translation (MART) Building, which ranks No. 13 on this year's Top Starts list. Led by general contractor E.W. Howell Co., Plainview, N.Y., the 2020 Stony Brook project includes construction of the 245,000-sq-ft MART building and a 225,000-sq-ft hospital pavilion. MART will house imaging, neurosciences, cancer research and care and serve as the new home for the university's cancer center. It also will include 25 cancer biology-oriented labs and a 300-seat auditorium. The 10-story pavilion will have 150 inpatient beds and a two-story children's hospital. The project, which broke ground in March 2014, is set for completion by fall 2016.
The Fund is one of E.W. Howell's most valued clients over the last 35 years, says Howard Rowland, firm president. "As a public owner, its professional approach and responsiveness and its equitable resolution to the many issues during the construction process is well respected throughout the construction industry," he says.
The Fund's other major project, 2020 Buffalo, is a $275-million building for the University at Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences (No. 16 on the Top Starts list). The project is part of the Cuomo administration's NYSUNY 2020 program that is aimed at jump-starting the city's building boom. "Downtown Buffalo is changing dramatically," Held says." "[This project] is absolutely contributing to that and we're excited to be a part of it."
Led by Gilbane Building Co. and The LiRO Group, which are providing agency construction management services, the project includes a seven-story facility that will support 2,000 students, faculty and clinicians as well as provide patient space. It is being built over the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority's Allen/Medical campus rail station. The project is targeting LEED Gold certification and is scheduled to open for the fall 2017 semester. "We're currently working toward a mid-May 2017 beneficial occupancy," Held says.
"This is a high-priority project for Gov. Cuomo and the Fund," says Gilbane project executive Jay Johnson. "The Fund put together an experienced and dedicated team, and all communication and interfaces with [members] have been excellent to date."
In addition, under M/WBE participation goals that are in line with those mandated by Cuomo, participation is highly encouraged through outreach programs. "We tailor certain carve-outs [of the project] where we can help M/WBE firms grow and participate in the project," says Johnson. "The Fund takes these goals very seriously." Total MWBE participation is currently mandated at a 20% level and is expected to increase to 30% in the future, Held says, adding that nearly $40 million has been paid to more than 300 qualified prime contractors and subcontractors for work performed during the past fiscal year.
To meet equally high-priority safety standards on Fund projects, general contractor LP Ciminelli hosts regularly scheduled toolbox meetings and uses the Internet program DB02 to share safety inspection results immediately. The Fund's regional safety director also meets with the firm's safety staff once a month and an owner rep participates in weekly site walk-throughs.
Gilbane's Johnson adds that the University of Buffalo also has a team of representatives who perform their own safety inspections on a regular basis.
The Fund has a history of working collaboratively with project teams. So far it has won two partnering awards from the Associated General Contractors of New York State for work with FAHS Construction and The Pike Co. on the 2013 Richard Shineman Center for Science, Engineering and Technology at SUNY Oswego and more recently, for work with Gilbane last year on the SUNY Potsdam Performing Arts Center.
"Gilbane has provided construction management services to the Fund for over 12 years on 12 different campuses. Through this experience, we have established a strong working relationship; they value us as a partner in the process and are fair to all parties involved," says John LaRow, the firm's upstate New York vice president. "Our professional opinion is sought after and our ideas are implemented at the project level and across the portfolio of work. The Fund has a deep, well-run professional organization."
Steven Goldberg, partner at architecture firm Mitchell/Giurgola, New York City, credits the Fund with jump-starting his practice in 1969 with work on the student union at SUNY Plattsburgh. He points to former Fund CEO Anthony G. Adinolfi, who "had a vision of bringing younger firms in to help with master plans." The architect has since worked on six other Fund projects, now completing work on the Stocking Hall rehabilitation at Stony Brook and beginning design on the $27-million renovation of the 74,000-sq-ft Houghton Hall at SUNY Fredonia. "Our experience with the Fund has been really great," Goldberg says. "We're very fortunate to have them as a client."
The Fund, which receives its capital from bonded state money, has been receiving funding through one-year plans, such as the NYSUNY 2020 program, which includes projects on SUNY's four university centers—Albany, Binghamton, Buffalo and Stony Brook—as opposed to five-year plans.
"When the administration changed, Gov. Cuomo was looking to get state spending under tighter control," Held says. But Fund officials would like to get back to five-year plans that "make it easier to work with campuses and offer more flexibility," he adds. "With one-year plans, the Fund has to refocus and really closely evaluate the needs of the college as well as pay attention to the economy, because you don't know if the money will still be there the following year."
Officials now are awaiting administration approval of the Fund's recently submitted capital spending plan for 2015-2020 to convince legislators to return to the five-year approach. Whatever spending program is approved, however, the Fund will generate a steady stream of work. "We still have a substantial amount of projects to get through," Held says. "At the end of the day, [the projects] all will wind up being a success because we get it done."