$2.5 million more OK'd for UM union

Regents vote unanimously to authorize funds for 3rd cost overrrun on project

February 14, 2004|By Alec MacGillis | Alec MacGillis,SUN STAFF

The state university system's Board of Regents approved another cost overrun yesterday for the renovation of the student union at College Park - work that is 30 months behind schedule and $12 million over budget.

The regents voted unanimously, and with little discussion, to authorize $2.5 million more for the Adele H. Stamp Student Union at the University of Maryland. The vote follows two previous overruns totaling about $10 million and brings the project's cost, initially set at $45 million, to $57.5 million.

Campus officials have attributed the overruns and delay mainly to faulty design work by the project's architects. UM is taking legal action against the architects to try to recoup about $4.5 million.

Regents and lawmakers have expressed concern about the project's mounting costs, pointing out that it follows larger overruns at UM's other recent big project, the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center.

The arts center, which opened in 2001, came in $22 million over its $107 million budget. Those overruns provoked strong criticism from then-Gov. Parris N. Glendening and others, and questions about whether the university was capable of handling major projects.

Yesterday, regents said after the vote that they had assurances from university officials that there would be no further overruns on the student union, now scheduled to be completed in December. They also said that UM has promised better oversight of future projects.

"We're convinced the situation has been brought under control," said David H. Nevins, the regents' finance chairman.

The renovation is being paid for mainly through student fees, but the overrun approved yesterday will come out of a UM building reserve fund. The renovation includes the addition of a wing, several ballrooms and a new food court.

John D. Porcari, UM's vice president for administrative affairs, said the project was complicated by the need to keep the union open throughout the renovation. About 18,000 students use the building each day.

Also posing a challenge, he said, was the idiosyncrasy of the original union, which was built in stages over the past 35 years. Contractors have had to replace the building's 26 separate heating and air-conditioning systems with a single network.

But most to blame, UM officials say, were the designs by CHK/Sasaki of Silver Spring, which, they say, incorrectly sized and routed ductwork, piping, electrical lines and sprinkler pipes - leaving insufficient room for them between floors. The firm has said delays were the fault of contractors who reviewed the plans and were unable to execute them.

UM officials also attributed overruns for the arts center to poor design by two firms. UM won a $5 million settlement for the design mistakes. Contractors had to remove steel columns they had installed after finding there wasn't enough room for ductwork.

D. Philip Shockley, the student representative to the regents, said he worried that the missteps would be borne by students in the form of higher fees, even if the latest overrun is taken out of a reserve fund. "It's been a disaster, and students are having to make up for it," he said.

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