August 13, 2012

Building boom on campuses adds $1 billion to economy

Contributed Rendering
Contributed Rendering
CCSU is planning this new $82 million residence hall on its New Britain campus.

College construction projects in Connecticut will likely inject several billion dollars into the Connecticut economy over the next few years. And the influx of major expansion and renovation projects is welcome news for the beleaguered construction industry.

While the University of Connecticut Health Center's ambitious $864 million Bioscience Connecticut initiative has stolen the headlines in recent months, other significant projects are in the planning and design stage.

Central Connecticut State University (CCSU), for example, is in the midst of more than $200 million worth of investments on its New Britain campus. The highlight will be a new $82-million, 220,000-square-foot residence hall.

The 640-bed facility will greatly expand access to students looking to live on the school's campus. It will be one of the largest residential buildings on any of the four state university campuses when it is complete, possibly as early as 2014.

Meanwhile, Western, Eastern, and Southern Connecticut state universities are also planning multi-million-dollar upgrades and renovations on their respective campuses that should provide a boost to the construction industry.

College officials say the investments are helping to address long overdue renovations and repairs. Other initiatives aim to expand and upgrade facilities to allow schools to become more competitive in attracting top student talent.

"Students are very impressionable by the quality of a campus," said Salvatore Cintorino, the assistant chief administrative officer and director of facilities management at CCSU. "These buildings are going to help support academic and student needs and help market the campus."

Cintorino said CCSU is need of another 1,000 beds on its campus to meet student demand for housing. The bulk of that will be satisfied by the new residence facility. While CCSU may have been considered a commuter school in the past, Cintorino said that has changed over the past decade as the school's campus has undergone a considerable makeover. With only 2,191 beds currently on campus, there is now a waiting list of up to 200 students each year looking for on-campus housing.

The school's total enrollment has remained relatively stable over the past 15 years at 12,500.

The new seven-story residence hall will be a design-build project nestled between the school's athletic bubble and student center parking garage on Ella Grasso Boulevard. It will include three buildings and contain mostly suite-style rooms, Cintorino said. A fitness center, seminar room, computer lab and resident life office will also be housed in the building.

"There is a large group of students unable to live on campus because housing is maxed out," Cintorino said. "This is an attractive opportunity to capture kids on the waiting list."

CCSU will also be building a $10.5 million dining facility on the northeast section of its campus that will accommodate about 640 students.

Other projects include a $65 million renovation and expansion of the DiLoreto and Willard buildings and a new $35 million arts and science building.

The four colleges that make up the Connecticut State University System are all in the midst of a comprehensive long-term capital infrastructure investment plan known as CSUS 2020.

The plan, which pre-dates the Malloy Administration, includes 36 separate projects valued at $950 million.

The projects, which will continue through the rest of the decade, are being funded through state bonding, but not all of the dollars have been approved yet. The governor is responsible for approving funds on an annual basis.

Pending projects include things like a new $97 million visual and performing arts center at Western Connecticut State University (WCSU) in Danbury and a $63 million fine arts instructional center at Eastern Connecticut State University (ECSU) in Willimantic, as well as funds for code compliance, infrastructure improvements, mechanical and electrical upgrades and renovations and equipment.

There are other projects not related to the CSUS 2020 initiative in the works as well.

The Connecticut Health and Educational Facilities Authority has received a preliminary memo for a $125 million bond offering from the overseers of the Connecticut State Colleges & Universities system to fund various expansions and renovations including the new multimillion dollar residence facility at CCSU.

If approved, the bond proceeds will also fund at least $12 million worth of projects at WCSU, including a major renovation of the Litchfield residence hall. ECSU will be spending more than $4 million to convert its 70,151-square-foot Shafer Hall academic classroom into a residence hall.

The various campus upgrades are a breath of fresh air for the construction industry.

The financial crisis of 2008 and ensuing recession forced many colleges and universities across the country to either put on hold or completely scrap construction projects.

New Haven's Yale University, for example, was forced to delay the construction of two new residential colleges that would have expanded enrollment at the school by 800 students.

The $500 million project was originally planned to be completed by 2013, but several hundred million dollars still needs to be raised before construction even gets started, said Tom Conroy, a school spokesman.

Once the funds are in hand, build-out of the two new facilities will take an additional 2.5 years, Conroy said.

William Jarvis, managing director of Commofund, a Wilton-based nonprofit asset management and research firm, said colleges typically fund new building construction through fundraising campaigns, operating surpluses or bonding, but the pace of new build outs has slowed in recent years as each of those revenue sources have come under pressure.

Some universities, like Yale, also use their endowments to cover some construction costs. But many school endowments were battered by the 2008 financial crisis and still haven't returned to their pre-recession levels, Jarvis said.

UConn and the other state universities have the financial advantage of being backed by Connecticut taxpayers, which have pledged hundreds of millions of dollars to support various construction projects.

The Bioscience Connecticut initiative, for example, which includes construction of a new patient tower for UConn's John Dempsey Hospital as well as research and incubator space for the UConn School of Medicine, is being financed in part, by hundreds of millions of dollars in state bond money.

At its Storrs campus, UConn will also be constructing a $170 million technology park and a new basketball facility, which is being financed through a $40 million fundraising campaign.

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