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March 4, 2010

$46 million in capital projects approved

New physics laboratories and student housing on the Pittsburgh campus and upgrades to buildings on the Bradford and Greensburg campuses are among nearly $46 million in construction and renovation projects approved by the Board of Trustees property and facilities committee last week.

The largest item approved at the Feb. 23 meeting budgets $28.2 million to create or renovate 13 physics laboratories. Known as “mid-campus complex renovations phase II,” the project focuses on Allen Hall, Old Engineering Hall and the Nuclear Physics Laboratory with some improvements planned for Thaw Hall and the Space Research Coordination Center.

The project, funded in part by $15 million in federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act money awarded through the National Institute of Standards and Technology, will result in 27,000 square feet of laboratory space for the Department of Physics and Astronomy and upgrades to related office and support areas.

Pitt’s Nanoscience and Technology Initiative will benefit from renovated labs for eight existing faculty members and three new experimental physics research faculty. Two other experimental physics research groups will receive upgrades to their facilities.

The project was in Pitt’s 12-year facilities plan, but the stimulus money grant enabled the University to accelerate the pace for the two-year project, said Executive Vice Chancellor and General Counsel Jerome Cochran.

To increase the amount of student housing on the Pittsburgh campus, the committee approved $1.56 million to convert office space in Lothrop Hall into 47 new undergraduate housing beds and $2.8 million for site preparation related to the construction of an undergraduate apartment complex adjacent to Bouquet Gardens. (See Nov. 12 University Times.)

Cochran said the new rooms in Lothrop Hall will be consistent with existing student housing in the building, which houses 656 undergraduates. The first-floor office space had been occupied by UPMC, but recently was vacated, he said.

Starting in the next fiscal year, the additional rooms in Lothrop are expected to bring in annual net income of $150,000 and will raise the on-campus undergraduate housing total to 7,241 beds.

Although the Bouquet Gardens expansion plans remain in the design stage, that project is expected to add another 150-200 beds to the total by August 2011.

The Bouquet Gardens project approved by the committee covers demolition of an existing structure on the Oakland Avenue property, site preparation, foundations and utility extensions.

Following the meeting, Cochran said another 500-bed dorm is in the planning stages. Although site selection has not been finalized, the lead contender is a University-owned building and parking lot at Fifth Avenue and University Place, next to the University Club, he said.

“We could use as much [student housing] as we can build,” Cochran said, adding that the planned housing expansion should enable the University to continue with its three-year housing guarantee “and also to provide some flexibility for transfer students,” he said.

“We never fear that we can’t fill up space. It just so happens that not only have we gone with the three-year guarantee, but the quality of what we’re building and the quality of older residence halls that we’ve renovated is such that kids want to stay. They want to be in University housing.”

The expansion plans benefit students, Cochran said. “They don’t have to rely on slum landlord properties. They can have high quality University-built and -maintained space. And we’d really like to see fewer and fewer students live in substandard housing.”

With the addition of the 500-bed dorm, the University will be able to accommodate about 50 percent of its full-time Pittsburgh campus undergraduates, said property and facilities committee chair John Pelusi. “That’s unmatched by any urban institution.”

The committee also approved:

• $1.9 million to build a new greenhouse on the sixth-level roof of Langley Hall for botany research in the Department of Biological Sciences;

• $2 million to renovate approximately 9,000 square feet of space on the ninth floor of the William Pitt Union. The project is the last segment in a series of floor-by-floor renovations to the student union building. The renovation will include a new student study area/lounge and offices for Residence Life, Pitt Arts and a chaplain, as well as a conference room and kitchen.

• $2 million for phase I of an infrastructure upgrade for Pitt-Greensburg’s Smith Hall. This project will feature installation of energy-efficient lighting, heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems for the auditorium, student reception area and foyer. Cochran said no major upgrades have been made to the systems in the building, which was constructed in 1974, and the systems have exceeded their useful service life.

• $5.9 million to upgrade chemistry and biology laboratories and outdated infrastructure in Pitt-Bradford’s main science building, Fisher Hall. The improvements include energy-efficient upgrades and changes to bring the building into compliance with current building codes, including the Americans With Disabilities Act.

• $1.6 million to install new air-handling systems to serve the Chevron Science Center’s Ashe Auditorium.

In addition to construction projects, the committee approved three leases:

• An eight-year, 10-month lease  with  BPA  II  for  17,404 square feet of research and office space in Bridgeside Point II (BSPII) to enable the School of Medicine’s Department of Psychiatry to expand its translational and basic neuroscience research programs.

The psychiatry programs currently have 16,000 square feet of space in Pitt’s Starzl Biomedical Science Tower (BST). The space in BSPII would house labs and offices for six recently recruited faculty members and their laboratory staff.

The new faculty will conduct research on neural substrates and neuro-developmental mechanisms of brain disorders that could lead to new diagnostic methods and treatments.

According to background information provided to the committee, the psychiatry researchers housed in BST have external funding of more than $14 million in direct costs and $5.7 million in indirect costs, plus support from the psychiatry department and start-up packages from UPMC and the Senior Vice Chancellor for Health Sciences to support the rent.

Pitt’s Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine and the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics are among the existing tenants in the BSPII building at 450 Technology Drive.

The eight-year, 10-month lease term begins Dec. 1 and contains two five-year renewal options. The initial annual rental cost is approximately $818,000 and will be adjusted annually based on a prorated share of operating expenses for the space.

The lease includes a termination option that would allow the University to end the lease or downsize at the end of the fifth year by providing a year’s notice.

• A renewal of a lease for 29,153 square feet of space in the Sterling Plaza building at 201 North Craig Street, occupied by researchers affiliated with the National Surgical Adjuvant Breast and Bowel Project (NSABP). The current lease expires Dec. 31 with a five-year renewal option.

The initial annual lease is approximately $816,000, to be adjusted each year.

The NSABP research is funded through two major National Cancer Institute grants: a prevention grant with an annual budget of $4.6 million that is funded through May 31, 2012, and a treatment grant with an annual budget of $4.23 million, funded through Jan. 31, 2012.

Federal stimulus money of $227,568 per year is supplementing the treatment grant through Sept. 29, 2011.

Although Pitt anticipates the grants will be renewed, a termination provision is included in the lease should the grants not be renewed after 2012.

• A 20-year lease for as much as 143,742 assignable square feet of space in the new Children’s Hospital’s John G. Rangos Sr. Research Center. The lease, which begins July 1 and includes a nine-year renewal option, will enable the University to consolidate pediatric research from various locations in Oakland in the flexible open laboratory space on the new hospital campus.

Currently, University departments occupy 59,475 square feet of space in the 300,000-square-foot Lawrenceville building.

The annual lease costs will vary and will be adjusted quarterly based on the space the researchers occupy. When the space is fully occupied, the annual lease will be approximately $12.36 million.

Pointing out the economic benefit the University brings to the region, Pelusi noted that the projects approved by the committee will create 250 construction jobs and approximately 100 support positions, and that two of the three leases the committee approved are in commercially owned buildings. Cochran estimated the University’s share of property taxes for the leased space in the two buildings to be approximately $157,445 a year.

—Kimberly K. Barlow

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