LU campus construction projects move forward after hours of contentious debate

Reed Stadium at Lincoln University is one of the campus renovation projects on hold as university officials and curators decide how to move forward with construction contracting. (Julie Smith/News Tribune photo)

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Uncertainty on behalf of the Lincoln University Board of Curators sparked hours of disagreement, at times in heated fashion, over the course of the board's two most recent meetings.

After hours of debate between curators and administration, LU hired contractors to begin initial work on several critical campus projects.

LU administration and the Board of Curators, the university's governing body, were divided on how to move forward with design and architectural contracting for the renovation of Dawson Hall and about a dozen structural repairs identified in a recent campus-wide assessment.

The board ultimately moved forward with recommendations the administration suggested for hiring an engineering firm to design structural repairs and hiring an architect to design the Dawson Hall renovation.

Structural repairs

For $76,000, Lincoln University recently hired Anderson Engineering, of Columbia, to conduct a structural assessment on all university buildings. Anderson came back with a 280-page report.

The assessment revealed 12 areas in critical need of repair and five areas of campus that need immediate attention (in the next 12 months).

At the Building and Grounds Committee meeting in mid-April, university facilities and planning Director Jeff Turner said the university needed to make a decision on how to proceed with the repairs.

One of the most urgent projects includes repairs to cracks in its foundation and a deteriorating load-bearing post in the university power plant. Another is a collapsing concrete slab above an entrance to Dwight T. Reed Stadium that shut down the entrance, which Turner said will remain closed until the repair is made.

A bowed wall in Elliff Hall will also need attention, according to the assessment, and so will a walkway to Jason Gym and the bridge to the Inman E. Page Library.

"I think most of these probably come back to safety," said Sandy Koetting, retiring vice president for administration and finance. "We're just making sure that those spaces are safe for visitors to the spaces or the employees in these locations."

All the projects are matters of safety, Turner said.

"As we continue to learn about how we want to do this, the clock is still moving," he said. "We have buildings that, I will put on record, I'm in fear of."

To make quick progress on the repairs, Turner suggested the Board of Curators approve funds to retain Anderson Engineering so the firm can provide repair designs and construction documents. The initial quote for the design documents was $318,000.

Of the $318,000, approximately $200,000 would pay for surveying and designing repairs, Turner said, and the remaining $118,000 would pay for project management and bidding. He said one option would be for the university to only pay $200,000 for the project designs to get estimates on the cost of the repairs.

Once those documents are available, Turner said the university could bid the individual projects out so contractors can do the work.

Curator Everidge Cade, who recently became chair of the Board of Curators Building and Grounds Committee, had concerns about the plan Turner suggested.

Cade, who also serves as the board's secretary, said it would be disadvantageous for the university to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on design documents if it doesn't know how much the projects will cost to complete. He also raised concerns about Anderson Engineering being the only company to conduct an assessment, but said the university should be considering a single contractor for all stages of the project.

"I need one person, is what I guess I'm saying, to come and look at it, do the site survey, design phase then construction and tell me what the cost is to do it," Cade said.

Turner said the design documents are required to bid out the projects and get estimated costs.

The state recommended Anderson Engineering, and recently used the firm to conduct similar structural assessments at the University of Missouri, Turner said. So he didn't seek other companies to provide an assessment.

Turner said he is a one-man department with a lot to do, so the university should try to act on the advice of larger institutions with more resources, like the state and Mizzou.

"There's a lot on my plate right now, and this is just one item. We have a lot going on right now that is taking up a lot of time," Turner said. "I'm working nights and weekends to try to keep the boat afloat, but the boat has a lot of holes in it."

Curator Richard Callahan said he's not sure the university contracting with a single company for all phases of the projects would be the cheapest option because, "they would be bidding in the dark in some fashion."

He said if the state goes through a similar two-step process when considering repairs for state-owned buildings, "maybe it's for a reason, and it is the more prudent approach."

Cade said his goal isn't trying to determine what the university's cheapest option is but whether Lincoln can afford to do any of the repairs at all.

Cade projected it would cost Lincoln $4 million to complete the repairs, using what he said was a business standard of project design costing around 10 percent of total construction costs.

"Do we have $4 million around to spend for all this stuff?" Cade asked other curators and some university administrators.

"Well, we don't have a lot of extra money, I'm sure of that," said Curator Richard Popp, the board's treasurer.

The committee settled on asking Anderson Engineering for estimates.

After recontacting Anderson Engineering, Turner said the list of 12 critical repairs was narrowed down to nine projects, which are predominantly sidewalk and handrail repairs and "things that we can handle in a different approach without utilizing structural engineers and assessments."

The engineering firm provided an estimate of $255,000 to provide design documents, civil surveys and to contract as the project manager for the nine buildings, Turner said, but the estimate doesn't cover any of the cost for construction.

Curators quickly rehashed the debate that broke out in committee.

Curators Frank Logan, Callahan and Popp were in favor of paying the $255,000 for design documents, which would then be used to bid the projects out and get estimates for the construction. The projects would go to bid individually so the university has more discretion in picking what to complete and when, Turner said.

The $255,000 price tag isn't part of the university's planned budget, which means it would be paid through the university president's contingency fund.

Popp said the university could pay for the design documents now out of the contingency fund and pay for the construction next fiscal year, which begins July 1.

"Right now, to give around $255,000 out and not have any idea where we're going to get the revenue to fix this deferred maintenance, I just don't know where it's going to go," Cade said.

Logan said the university needs to pay $255,000 to simply move forward with the process, or choose not to. Questions about how the university will pay for construction of the projects is putting the cart before the horse, he said.

"We're talking about a lot of things that are second tier," Logan said. "We've got to get through the first tier first, which is the engineering study."

Cade said the university is rushing and a performance- contracting company should be able to provide collective assessment, design documents and construction. He said a company could be contracted to conduct a preliminary study for less than Anderson Engineering and put it in terms of what it would cost to complete the repairs.

"If we were going to do the complete (project) using one company, it would have been from the beginning," Turner said. "We're kind of in the middle now."

By splitting the project into three phases -- assessment, design and construction -- Turner said Lincoln avoided paying a multi-million dollar cost upfront.

Some of the repairs have been known to the university for years, Turner said, and it's time to act.

"This is something that I've been wanting to do since I started because I did see some areas of concern, and I wanted to get an expert to take a look at these areas, as well as other areas I had not seen," Turner said.

The university leaders said they didn't want a lack of attention to the repairs to cause an injury or death on campus.

"If one person gets seriously hurt, the cost will be greater to the university than what's proposed here today," Callahan cautioned.

He said there's some urgency to the repairs because safety is at stake.

Koetting said the university also has a responsibility to take action on the report because the need for repairs is documented and adds to Lincoln's liabilities.

The Board of Curators approved a motion to move forward with purchase of Anderson Engineering's services on the nine projects for $255,000.

Cade, who abstained from the vote, said it was the wrong move.

"If you want to give the money away to do it, fine, but let's not sit here two months from now talking about how we're going to get this paid for," Cade said. "Now you've got a piece of paper that will gather dust, and you don't have any feasible way to figure out how to pay for this."

Dawson Hall architect

At the same Building and Grounds meeting in April, Turner presented curators with a recommendation to hire Hastings & Chivetta Architects, of Maryland Heights, to design the renovation of Dawson Hall.

The university decided in February to appropriate $10 million to renovate Dawson, its largest residence hall that has a poor reputation among students and staff. The residence hall is in need of fresh paint, better technology and furniture, and updated living arrangements and room layouts. The Board of Curators approved the administration to move forward with hiring an architect for the project.

A selection committee of university staff came to the recommendation of Hastings & Chivetta after reviewing and scoring 11 bids Lincoln received for the project. Scoring was based on experience with similar jobs and points were given to minority- and women-owned businesses and subcontractors.

Similar to the plan for the structural repairs, Turner said the university would hire the architect to create design documents and then use those documents to solicit bids from construction companies to do the construction work.

Cade said he was concerned about what options the university would have if something were to go wrong between the project design and actual construction. Turner said it would be addressed through the contracts with the two companies.

And, similar to the structural repairs, Cade said he wants to hire another company to conduct a free preliminary study for the Dawson Hall renovation to have a comparison.

Cade and Curator Victor Pasley, president of the board, suggested delaying the project to bid the project out to performance-contracting companies for comparison.

"I don't know why we wouldn't look at both ways of approaching these opportunities that we have in front of us, to just make sure that Lincoln University is getting the best deal," Pasley said.

The university would need to create a new Request for Proposals to get performance- contracting companies to bid on the entire renovation from start to finish.

After the bids are received, the Building and Grounds Committee would make a recommendation from the two options before it goes to the full board for final approval. Turner projected a minimum of an eight-week delay to restart the process.

"I appreciate the fact that it will delay it, but I think it's an appropriate delay," Pasley said.

A delay is its own cost, Callahan said.

"I don't believe you get anything for free, and so we're going to pay -- one way or another," he said. "Right now, we're in inflationary times and building costs are only going to go up. ... A delay is an added cost."

Cade said he doesn't understand the push to move quickly on the Dawson Hall project, and he wanted to be deliberate in decision-making. He said it would be a disservice to the university to make a decision without considering all options.

"I'm not stuck on performance-contracting. I'm not stuck on design-build," Cade said. "I need to see what's best for the university. I don't know.

"I don't know if we can cavalierly just go into something and say this is the best way to go because of time, that's all I'm saying," Cade continued. "Time is not the issue with me, doing it right is the issue and getting the best bang for our dollar."

A motion to delay the project while it sends out Request for Proposals for performance- contractors to conduct a preliminary study of Dawson Hall split the curators on the Building and Grounds committee in a tie vote. The issue remained unsettled but progressed to the full board meeting a week later.

When brought back up at the full board meeting, Cade suggested the university restart the process to solicit bids from performance contracting companies who would do the entire project before making a decision on whom to hire to design the Dawson Hall renovation.

Popp said he doesn't see any value in delaying the project and one of his biggest concerns was the board being at odds with university administration, namely Turner and University President John Moseley.

Popp said he wanted to keep university administration happy and avoid frustration spurred by the board changing direction.

"My happiness is based on just clear direction in how we move forward," Moseley said. "We are understaffed and what I don't want is using people's time ineffectively."

The Dawson Hall project was "clear as mud" before the board, he said.

Lincoln doesn't have the resources to provide multiple options for all the projects, Moseley said.

Callahan pointed out the board previously gave direction to find an architect. He said the board should consider performance contracting for future projects and move forward with hiring the architect.

The motion to restart the process failed by a vote of 3-5, and the recommendation to hire Hastings & Chivetta Architects to design Dawson Hall's renovation was adopted by a vote of 5-3.

The budget for design is 8-10 percent of the overall construction budget, according to the proposal the board adopted.

See also:

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