High price tag results in construction delay

Nathan Whalen

The University’s Riverbend Commons project, designed to improve access to the Mississippi River and add more on-campus housing, will be completed fall 2001, one year later than expected.
The delay, caused by an anticipated escalation in construction costs, was announced by officials at a Thursday’s Board of Regents meeting. The University anticipated that the Commons would cost $64 million, but the construction firm PCL Construction Services came back in October with an $80 million estimate.
To bring the price back into its original territory, University officials responded by delaying construction until spring and pushing back the completion date.
The Riverbend Commons is a multiphase project that includes a parking garage, housing for 500 students and a plaza that opens up Coffman Union to an expansive view of the river.
Of the total $84.7 million price tag, $64 million will go toward construction. The design, excavation and building foundation account for the remaining costs.
The University’s construction schedule was blamed for the delay.
In order to reach the original fall 2000 deadline, construction workers would have had to work 24-hour days all winter. The University would have had to account for thousands of hours in overtime pay.
“Nothing is on hold,” said Pam Beader, director of design and construction services. She added that the excavation behind Coffman is continuing and the foundation is going to be laid early next year.
Construction workers are working on excavating and laying the foundation, tasks that should have been completed in October.
The preliminary parts of the project have been able to continue almost on schedule because designers broke the Commons project down into smaller parts. They have sent completed sections to the builders for immediate construction.
The Twin Cities building boom coupled with the labor shortage have also contributed to the delay.
“The construction market is supercharged,” said Eric Kruse, vice president of University Services. They have had trouble finding a firm to finish the project within on deadline.
Recently, University construction officials have squabbled over the small number of contractors available to work on a host of building projects.
Since the construction setback will leave the University with 500 fewer dormitory rooms for one more year, housing services will have to resort to what officials call “expanded housing.” The term is the boardroom way to say that students will be sleeping in study rooms and common areas.
The Housing Services staff doesn’t know how many people will apply to live in the halls next year, said Mary Ann Ryan, Housing and Residential Life director. She wouldn’t rule out the possibility of housing students in surrounding hotels until a space opens.
The 1,700 Riverbend Commons parking spaces will also be a year late. The delay elicited a lukewarm response from Cari Hatcher, Parking and Transportation Services spokeswoman, who said people will simply have to wait for the additional parking spaces.

Nathan Whalen covers facilities and construction. He welcomes comments at [email protected]