Legislature approves 3 SPEED projects

 
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The Joint Legislative Budget Committee (JLBC) allocated funds from the Stimulus Package for Economic and Education Development (SPEED) for use in renovating the Skydome, Liberal Arts and Hotel and Restaurant Management (HRM) buildings.

At a Feb. 24 meeting, the JLBC approved the funding of the three projects requested by NAU. A total of $38.5 million in SPEED funds will be allocated to NAU for these projects.

The SPEED program was approved in 2007 by then-Gov. Janet Napolitano and the state legislature. The goal of the project was funding necessary building renovations at NAU, ASU and U of A while stimulating Arizona’s economy. Under the program, 80 percent of the funding would come from state lottery sales, while the universities pay the remaining 20 percent.

Jane Kuhn, the interim chief facilities officer, said NAU has not set a definite timeline on any of the projects.

“Since we were unable to meet the original schedule, we are re-evaluating the schedule,” Kuhn said. “Each has a specific set of issues that will impact the campus. Therefore, we have to evaluate these as a whole rather than stand alone.”

At a Nov. 13 meeting, the JLBC approved two of NAU’s five FY2009 proposed projects — renovations to the North Union and north campus infrastructure — while refusing to review the other projects. The three remaining projects — renovations to Audrey Auditorium, an expansion of the Health and Wellness Center, and a new health professions building — are set to be reviewed in the next two fiscal years.

Renovations to the Skydome will receive $21.9 million of the SPEED funds. The renovations include reconfiguring all the seats in the stadium, adding fire suppression tools to the concourse and lower levels of the stadium, and remodeling the restrooms to comply with standards set by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Kuhn said the renovations would make it easier to enjoy the events at the Skydome.

 

“The renovations that will be made to the dome will create a better experience for the fans and address the current needs of the end users of the facilities,” Kuhn said.

Due to the many events held at the Skydome, including commencement, Kuhn said scheduling the construction on the stadium is difficult.

“The dome is used for a variety of events other than collegiate athletics,” Kuhn said. “We are looking at all events to help inform the best time to begin this project.”

David Isbell, the personnel and facilities coordinator at the College of Arts and Letters, has been involved with organizing the Liberal Arts building project since it began to be discussed in the summer of 2008. Isbell said the news of the JLBC’s approval of the project was a relief.

“We’re glad at least one project is going forward,” Isbell said. “Personally, I looked at it as a 50/50 chance (of being improved) when it was put on hold.”

The Liberal Arts building will receive $8.9 million of the allocated money, with $7 million going toward the construction budget. According to Isbell, the biggest change in the building will take place in the empty lecture hall on the first floor. The room will be reconfigured as a theater space to be used for a film series and hosting guest speakers.

Next to the theater room will be a new student lounge for studying and waiting between classes. The lounge and theater room will be part of a hall that can remain open when the rest of the building is closed. Also, the building’s other lecture hall will receive improved seating and accessibility, and the English and history offices will be remodeled.

Isbell said the project will be very comprehensive.

“Every space (in the building) is going to be touched,” Isbell said. “Every classroom is going to be touched. The video and projection systems will be upgraded. The computer labs will be upgraded.”

The renovations to the building aim to improve safety aspects, including a sprinkler system, allowing the building to meet ADA standards; also planned are re-roofing the building, fixing plumbing problems in the restrooms and installing air conditioning in the entire building.

“(The air conditioning) will make a big difference for the summer classes there,” Isbell said. “It gets pretty miserable there.”

Isbell said these renovations have been long overdue.

“There’s a heavy class-load in that building,” Isbell said. “And a lot of it hasn’t been touched since it was built in the ‘60s.”

The project organizers chose Kinney Construction Services out of 13 applicants, five of whom were interviewed for the building contract. They chose Bustamante Kelly Collaborative as the design team. Isbell said the companies are ready to begin work as soon as the university approves the beginning of construction.

Isbell said he hopes construction will begin shortly after graduation in May and the classrooms will be finished by the beginning of the fall semester, with the theater room being completed in December. However, he said this would require the universityís approval by the middle of March.

Isbell said this project will help the Liberal Arts programs in their long-term future.

“It’s a retention issue,” Isbell said. “If students have nicer places to study, they wonít be comparing them to our sister institutions.”

Richard Howey, an interim executive director of the School of Hotel and Restaurant Management, has been involved with the project since he arrived at the program in the summer of 2008. Howey said getting approval for the project has been a difficult process, but he is optimistic they will accomplish everything.

“There are still a lot of hoops to jump through before we get this done,” Howey said. “But I like the odds.”

The HRM building will receive $7.34 million of the allocated funds. The largest portion of the funds will be dedicated to converting The Inn and the dining services in the building into classrooms and labs. New rooms will include two large classrooms, which will accommodate 50 to 60 students each, and two seminar rooms, which will seat 20 to 25 students each. In addition, the project includes a front desk lab, kitchen lab and dining room lab.

Infrastructure renovations will include improved heating plumbing.

Howey said this project would mean everything for the program.

“We have a building that’s 20 years old,” Howey said. “We have an increase in students. They need these classrooms and labs.”

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