UA research facility cost gets 20% budget boost

by Paul Gatling ([email protected]) 516 views 

This architectural rendering shows the Institute for Integrative and Innovative Research (I3R) at the southeast corner of Dickson and Duncan streets on the southeast side of the University of Arkansas campus.

At its regular meeting in May, the University of Arkansas System Board of Trustees unanimously approved a request from the Fayetteville campus for a 20% budget increase in building the Institute for Integrative and Innovative Research (I3R).

The new capital project amount is $137.6 million, up from $114 million. According to a letter to the board from UA System President Donald Bobbitt, additional funding is needed for rising construction costs and to finish building out research lab space.

Most of the facility’s funding will come from a $194.7 million grant from the Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation, one of the most significant single private gifts ever given to a university for advancing research and economic development.

UA officials announced the donation in July 2020, and it is supporting several initiatives, one of which is the I3R, which will back the commercialization of interdisciplinary research.

At the November 2020 UA System board meeting, UA officials presented the facility with an estimated project cost of $114 million for a building between 125,000 and 130,000 square feet. Approximately 17,150 square feet of lab space wasn’t fully built out in the initial planning to accommodate the budget.

In October 2021, the UA hired Dr. Ranu Jung as I3R’s founding director. According to board meeting documents, Jung’s arrival “clarified and refined” the facility’s research focus to grow the university’s cross-disciplinary research capability. I3R’s research will focus on five areas — food and technology, data science, materials science and engineering, bioscience and bioengineering research in metabolism, and integrative systems neuroscience.

The building’s design phase was recently completed with a final size of 141,000 square feet. Finishing out the additional lab space is expected to cost $10 million, which the UA is hoping to fund through research grants and private donations. It’s included in the funding request so the work can proceed if the funds are secured.

The additional funding addresses potential “construction escalation exposure” at final competitive bidding.

“The additional capital funding request is to meet the needs of the already expanding program of the institute and to address historic construction inflation pressures,” Bobbitt wrote in a letter to the trustees in support of Robinson’s request. “The entire ‘I3R’ team is committed to bringing the project to a successful completion, and continues to design with discretion, estimate conservatively and look for smart bid strategies that provide for a degree of price and scope flexibility to manage this volatile bid environment.”

The UA staged a ceremonial groundbreaking for the I3R on April 1 at the southeast corner of Dickson and Duncan streets on the southeast side of the UA campus. CDI Contractors is the general contractor. Hufft and Hammel, Green and Abrahamson (HGA) lead the design work.

The anticipated completion is June 2024.