University pushes back Phase I of construction

Noah Alatza, Community Engagement Manager

Correction: Completion of Phase I of the Physical Activities Center (PAC) has been pushed back to December. The Shield previously reported Phase II construction would not be completed until December but construction of that phase will not begin until the fall.

“We added an additional section of work and some steel imports were delayed,”  said Jim Wolfe, director of facilities operations and planning.

This phase was originally scheduled for completion in October.

The Board of Trustees approved renovations to Phase I of the PAC in late 2014, which has not seen any upgrades since its initial construction in 1980.

Phase I includes 4,000 additional seats for a new arena and 5,000 feet of space for the renovation of the kinesiology lab, along with more concession space and an upgraded spirit store.

Vice President of Finance and Administration Steve Bridges told The Shield last April the university is using $1.6 million in state-funded Rehab and Rehabilitation money for utilities, $2 million in campus store reserves for the spirit store, $1.5 million from food services for concessions, $1.4 million in student fee debt service money and $3 million from special projects.

Additional funds were added to the $25,690,000 million in Phase I funding for work along Bennett Lane and portions of Phase II upper east seating.

“The way the financing worked out with Phase II, we were able to add that (funding) to Phase I and have the arena complete when the whole project is done,” Wolfe said.

Wolfe said the new Vanderburgh County Sheriff’s office, part of the university’s master plan, would be added to the existing Public Safety building as part of Phase II.  

He also said the Fuquay Welcome Center, the construction zone between the Performance Center and the Orr Center, will be completed as early as fall of this year.

As for the potential of any construction-related road closures, Wolfe said the university is looking to decrease as much interference as possible.

“It depends on whether or not we can finish the arena with the crane and relocate where it is at on Bennett Lane,” Wolfe said. “We don’t anticipate moving it to University Blvd., and we should see road closures decrease the closer we get to completion.”

After Empire Contractors won bids for both the PAC and the Welcome Center, Wolfe said their diligence cannot be replaced.  

“Empire does quality work and works well with us,” Wolfe said.

Gary Burgdorf, the university’s construction project manager, remains in constant contact with all contractors from an administrative position, overseeing primary construction contractor Empire.

“As we went through the master plan it became evident as to the buildings we need to add and after a survey of the students it became evident we need another residence hall,” Wolfe said.

The master plan laid out three separate options. Downtown USI will add an additional residence hall adjacent to the others. Two other plans, which would have added housing to parking lots A and B, looks to be off the table.

“Where we have landed is placing the residence hall over by the other residence halls. It makes sense,” Wolfe said. “The consultants that do housing brought with them a housing dining consultant (to learn) how can we improve those services.”

The residence halls would then be able to house 1,200 students, with a separate dining facility to be constructed within a year.

Funding has already been approved by the state for Phase II. Wolfe said once an academic building idea is approved, administrators must return to the state legislature and show how exactly the university will be financed.  

“What happens when it gets approved and paid for it, the state reimburses you for what you pay,” Wolfe said.

Previous master plans have included traffic and pedestrian flow studies.  

“When you look at adding buildings, our traffic flow currently only has one way is go out and that’s through the expressway,” he said. “You can get to Schutte but it’s a trek and a lot of stop signs. I would say 98 percent of commuters leave via the expressway. That will not put any more traffic on Schutte (Road) or Broadway (Road).

Wolfe said after discussing the potential alternative routes off campus, another exit off Schutte Road made the most sense. The project is still years out, and funding is still in preliminary stages.

Wolfe acknowledged that adding the additional entrance would put more traffic on Schutte Road.

“There would be a long discussion with the county council on how to handle traffic,” he said. “Anytime we go into looking into something, we are very cognizant of working with local officials. Once this plan comes to fruition, it will be shown five years ahead of time to the county council, they will also see the master plan.”

The university’s final master plan with updated details will be presented to the Board of Trustees March 1 meeting. Wolfe said overall, construction remains effective.

“Construction is going well, with Phase II starting in the Fall, everything seems to be following through,” he said. “We have had several town halls and we have reached out to students and staff in an effective manner.”