Reorganization of one U department could force layoffs

by Nathan Hall

To create a more efficient building construction process, the University’s Department of Capital Planning and Project Management might soon undergo a reorganization, a University official told the Board of Regents on Thursday.

Earlier in the week, Michael Perkins, the University’s associate vice president for Capital Planning and Project Management, said as many as 55 University architects, engineers and student workers could face layoffs, workload changes or workstation moves as early as next month.

Although his speech to the Board of Regents facilities committee did not mention job reductions specifically, Perkins said department plans to undertake a radical reorganization he described as a “first.”

“We need to operate more like a business,” Perkins said. “We have to reduce our overhead, find cost-saving measures Ö and possibly eliminate low performers and streamline everything.”

In an interview conducted prior to his presentation to the regents, Perkins said layoffs and moves were imminent, but said that he was unable to provide specifics because decisions had not yet been made.

The reorganization will most likely not affect the estimated 310 construction trade workers who work temporarily out of union halls, said Elizabeth Toal, a human resources administrator for the University’s facility management office.

Perkins estimates the reorganization could take five years to complete.

“We do anticipate there may be some possible lack of cooperation as some people don’t react well to change,” Perkins said.

Perkins said he hopes the reorganization will reduce inefficiency by 15 percent, and deliver 90 percent of all construction projects on time and within budget by 2007.

In a report presented to the regents, Perkins said his research showed the University paid more than $1.3 billion in capital spending for 734 separate projects from 1999 to 2003. Of those, 71 percent were significantly over budget and 68 percent were completed late.

“We need to increase accountability for all participants in the project delivery process,” Perkins said.

He said the new project delivery system would focus less on the “traditional design-bid-build process,” in which the University contracts with an architect to create a design plan and presents the plan for contractors to bid on.

The new process would involve more teamwork and communication to avoid design and construction problems, he said.

Kathleen O’Brien, vice president for University Services, said changing the way publicly funded construction projects operate was integral to restoring public trust and confidence in the college.

Under Perkins’ predecessor, Eric Kruse, the department failed to complete the majority of its projects on time or within the University’s budget, Perkins said. Perkins’ report stated that Kruse’s most ambitious project, the Coffman Union renovation, was $22 million over budget and took two years longer to complete than planned.

Kruse left the University in February 2002 to work for a private consulting company, said Michael Denny, interim associate vice president for the Department of Capital Planning and Project Management.

Regent Frank Berman said he was impressed with Perkin’s plan to revamp the University’s construction process.

“It took a lot of guts to put some of those numbers up there for everyone to see,” Berman said.