University construction blues

The University is currently involved with 351 construction projects — totaling $798 million dollars — only one-third of which will be completed by 2001. This is a very ambitious undertaking, but too ambitious to do all at once. Of the $30 billion being spent on education construction projects nationally, $9 billion are concentrated in Minnesota and surrounding areas, making the University’s construction program one of the largest in the United States. Unfortunately, these over-zealous plans have faltered in many ways.
The rapidly growing construction market has construction firms overwhelmed, seriously delaying many University projects. A labor shortage among construction firms has also been a huge deterrent of progress, as have escalating building material costs, which have increased as much as 36 percent. This inflated price of building materials has caused Coffman Union’s renovation to be delayed for at least six months, as the lowest bid for the Coffman renovation was $9 million above the $32 million originally budgeted. Coffman should not have been cleared out before a suitable plan was locked into place.
Not to say that the Twin Cities Student Unions Board of Governors, one of the groups making decisions regarding the union renovation, could have foreseen cost inflation. But because of the premature start on the Coffman project, current students will be left without a student union for the large majority of their college career, while mandatory student services fees fund the renovation.
More than 25 student organizations formerly housed in Coffman Union have been displaced, creating confusion and problems. Besides causing financial strain, the displacement has decreased student turnout at student organization events. While in Coffman, these organizations were able to hold events for free or for minimal cost. Now that these organizations are scattered, when they need a place to hold events they have to go through University departments, costing them more. This might not be such an issue if the Coffman renovation maintained its construction schedule. But with the completion date of the Union undetermined, student organizations are facing dwindling resources.
Current campus construction projects have been a considerable headache for all involved. The administration has been frustrated by the many bids that were well beyond its price range, while the road work has made things difficult for Metro Transit as well as commuters. Although most of this work is necessary, renovating a little at a time would have been a better strategy, a better use of resources and would have been less of an inconvenience for students and faculty.