In the face of unprecedented fiscal belt tightening, Massachusetts public colleges and universities have received a directive to repair buildings constructed four or more decades ago rather than investing in lucrative expansions.
This was part of Massachusetts Education Secretary Jim Peyser’s recent address to the House Bonding Committee, according to a May 15 report by the State House News Service. He cited a recent outside report that tallied the collective deferred maintenance backlog across state public colleges and universities at $5.5 billion, not including infrastructure and other facilities.
This reality points to a pipeline of renovation, repair and replacement projects for general contractors, architects and engineers in coming years.
One of the most notable examples is the University of Massachusetts Boston, where officials are projecting a $7 million deficit, down from a prior estimate of $30 million following cost cutting measures, according to the Boston Globe. The fiscal crisis has led to the departure of Chancellor J. Keith Motley last month and stalling of construction projects—including a $100 million nursing school building, a $28 million energy plant, a $23 million campus police and athletic facility and a $4 million pedestrian bridge from the first free-standing parking garage under construction. A $12 million project to install fire suppression systems in the library and an athletic center that the university’s chief financial officer says would address a safety concern are also on hold.
On April 23, Gov. Charlie Baker announced his commitment of $78 million over three years toward demolition of the old crumbling garage, a long-time safety hazard that now must be fixed, but the cost is estimated to run between $150 million and $260 million. The huge crumbling garage under the campus—known as the school’s Big Dig—is a sore reminder of past scandals that led to its shoddy construction and eventual closing.
Lizzy Guyton, the governor’s communication director said in a statement that “the Baker-Polito Administration is committing $78 million to UMass Boston in this year’s [Fiscal Year 2018] capital budget for the campus parking garage to support infrastructure needs and uphold our commitment to ensure UMass remains a successful and competitive public university system for Massachusetts students.”
Guyton also noted, “The administration will continue to work with the UMass Board of Trustees and campus leadership as they prioritize future projects to create stronger institutions on every campus for the thousands of students learning and researching at UMass from across the Commonwealth and beyond.”
Deputy Chancellor Barry Mills says the Baker administration funding to help remove the garage is a great commitment “as we move forward to address a problem that UMass Boston has been forced to confront virtually from the day it opened its doors.”
Currently, three construction projects are moving forward on campus, says Holly Sutherland, UMass Boston manager of construction communications. Suffolk Construction crews are at working on pile driving and bulk excavation for a $71 million precast concrete, 500,000 sq-ft, 1,400-space garage slated for completion by next spring.
Meanwhile, steel installation is underway for a $120 million, 1,000-bed freshman residence hall, the university’s first public-private partnership project between UMass Boston and Capstone Development. The $120 million Shawmut Construction project that broke ground in December will include first-floor dining commons and student living/learning space. Concrete installation for the foundation, elevator shafts and stairwells is progressing with the dormitory scheduled to open in fall 2018.
In preparation for demo work on the old garage, Bond Brothers crews are relocating all campus utilities from the 1970s building’s substructure. It is scheduled to begin in 2019 with completion by fall 2018.
“The piping, conduit and systems [for the $184 million utility corridor project] will provide reliable and redundant utilities to the campus and its neighbors, including the John F. Kennedy Library, the Edward M. Kennedy Institute and the Massachusetts State Archives,” Sutherland stated in an email.
The Baker Administration’s FY2016 and FY 2017 capital plans include nearly $74 million for infrastructure projects at UMass Boston, including a $50 million ring road project, $20 million for the science complex and $1.3 million for a substructure study expected to be completed soon for the demolition of the underground parking garage.