Arkansas Universities Enjoy Building Boom

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If there’s one segment in which construction isn’t suffering, it’s in higher education. Arkansas’ two- and four-year institutions are spending hundreds of millions of dollars on renovations, additions and new buildings.

The University of Arkansas at Fayetteville leads the way with numerous ongoing construction projects, the largest of which is its Football Operations Center, an 82,000-SF complex that’s estimated to cost $42.8 million.

“Included in that is a whole football center building complex located on the former practice fields in between the Walker Weight Training Facility and Reynolds Stadium,” said Mike Johnson, UA associate vice chancellor for facilities.

The UA also is working on renovating two of its older buildings. Johnson said the renovation of the 1930s-era Vol Walker Hall, which houses the school’s architecture program, will cost $37 million and involves removal of old library stacks and the addition of about 34,000 SF. Ozark Hall, a classroom building built in 1940, is undergoing a $28.6 million renovation.

“We’re doing a whole building renovation,” Johnson said. “Then we’re adding on a missing piece of the building: It was designed to be in a “U” shape, but one of those little fingers wasn’t built.”

The newest project is the construction of Founders Hall, a 77,000-SF, $23.8 million building that will include housing and space for retail and dining on the ground floor.

The UA also is working on a $15 million, 475-seat hillside auditorium and an $8.8 million child development center, both of which are scheduled to open by the end of 2013. It dedicated its $10 million Epley Center for Health Professions in March.

Johnson said several factors are responsible for the university’s prolific building.

“We’re coming up on the third year of the state lottery,” he said. “That’s allowed more children to attend higher education.”

Johnson said increased tuition and fees as well as a new per-credit hour facility fee have helped raise construction funds.

“To date we’re approaching about $84 or $85 million just out of that facility fee,” he said.

The rest of the school’s building funds, Johnson said, are from donors and gifts.

The University of Arkansas at Little Rock recently completed its $23 million, 350-bed, 107,000-SF West Residence Hall, and is wrapping up a $14.9 million nanotechnology center. Also recently completed was a 50,000-SF, $13 million “One-Stop” building that contains all administrative and student services offices.

“The whole purpose was for the convenience of students, so when you come to UALR, you only have to go to that one building,” said Andrijana Vukovich, UALR’s director of planning and capital construction. “You go in, you get your stuff done, you talk to advisers, you get testing, financial aid assistance. Everything is in one building.”

Little Rock’s University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences is working on a $25 million series of upgrades to some of its buildings, including completing an unfinished “shell” space on the hospital’s ninth floor, moving a multiple myeloma center to a “shell” space on the Cancer Institute’s eighth floor, and adding and remodeling some rooms in Ward Tower’s surgical suite.

UAMS also is building a $22 million upgrade to its central energy plant.

“The central energy plant was built in the late 1950s for the central building,” said Mark Kenneday, UAMS’ vice chancellor of campus operations. “It’s been upgraded multiple times, and the infrastructure was very dated, very non-energy efficient.

“By upgrading that building, we were able to use some hybrid plant technology that allows us to use an electric heat pump to generate chilled and hot water at the same time. That one piece of equipment allows us to turn off the natural gas boilers during cooler months.”

The cost savings from that project, Kenneday said, should amount to about $4 million each year, which he said will help alleviate the debt from UAMS’ other projects.

Arkansas State University in Jonesboro is working on two huge projects: the $28.3 million renovation and construction of several student housing areas and a $35 million liberal arts and humanities building.

David Handwork, ASU’s director of planning, design and construction, said the student life project will include houses for four individual sororities, each containing 20 beds; the extension of a 102-bed honors dormitory; and the renovation of the Kays Hall dormitory. He said it should be completed by June 2013.

The liberal arts building is an ongoing project that Handwork said has been in the works for years, but the college has had difficulty funding. The current phase will involve the construction of a simple steel shell to be finished at a later date.

“The contractors already bid the continuation of the steel and structural package,” Handwork said. “We have bids opening on the remainder of the envelope, with some mechanical work we had to do ahead of time.”

The shell, he said, should be done by May 2013. The building is at the core of ASU’s campus, which Handwork called the “hub of the wheel.”

Pulaski Technical College in North Little Rock is working on two major projects. Its 15,000-SF Culinary Arts & Hospitality Management Center is estimated to cost $15 million to build and will break ground this week, then be completed by fall 2013.

In the architecture phase is a new Fine and Performing Arts/Humanities Center. Communications Manager Tracy Courage said it’s a $30 million, 100,000-SF building, making it one of the state’s larger ongoing projects. The building is scheduled to open in 2014.