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February 20, 2003

Building on campus is no simple matter, Senate committee learns

With commonwealth-funded capital projects like the Petersen Events Center and Sennott Square recently completed, next in Pitt’s growth plans are construction of the Bioscience Tower 3 and the expansion and upgrade of the facilities at Langley-Crawford-Clapp halls, projects that now have state backing.

To learn more about how commonwealth-funded capital projects come to fruition, the Senate plant utilization and planning committee (PUP) heard a report Feb. 3 from Ana Guzman, Pitt associate vice chancellor for Facilities Management.

As a state-related university, Pitt annually sends a “project action” form to the state Department of Education itemizing the University’s requests for capital projects, Guzman told the PUP committee.

“And then, once in a while — there is no particular schedule for this in Harrisburg for whatever reason — the legislature says, ‘We’re going to start debate on a capital bill,’ and it pulls together requests not only from the Department of Education but from all the many, many other offices around the state who want new buildings or even renovations,” Guzman said.

A bill is created and debated, some items are deleted, and following the normal voting process, if the bill’s approved, it goes to the governor. In Pennsylvania, the governor has line-item veto power and can delete individual projects before signing the bill into law.

If Pitt’s request gets the governor’s sign-off, it means the state of Pennsylvania has authorized spending money for the project, Guzman said, “but that doesn’t mean in any way, shape or form that the project is ready to go. There is a big difference between funding being authorized and released.”

Authorized projects next go to the state budget office, which floats 30-year bonds for projects they expect to release money for, she explained. But authorized projects can lie dormant for years. “Usually when we submit our requests, we are counting three or four, maybe five years into the future,” Guzman said.

When the budget office does release state money, it releases it to the state’s Department of General Services (DGS), which administers the design and construction of all state-funded projects. Under Pa. Act 45, DGS oversees projects regardless of what percentage of the total cost will be state funded. If Pitt is picking up some of the tab, the University pays the DGS, Guzman said.

DGS passes the project internally to its selection committee, which reviews the project’s preliminary details. The project then undergoes a two-fold bidding process, for design and for construction contracts. “The state advertises every job, and professionals are required to send a statement of qualifications, reviewed by the selection committee, to be eligible to bid,” Guzman said.

DGS reviews the qualifications and then narrows to three each the architectural firms and construction contractors they allow to bid.

“We used to have no direct input into the bidding process,” Guzman said. “But recently we’ve been able to set up a meeting with the selection committee and let them know in essence what types of architects we need. We may go there with a projector and show four or five surrounding buildings, because some architects have a tendency to do certain types of buildings, and we need to be concerned about the [architectural] harmony, especially in cases were the firms are not local,” she said.

“So, we can let the committee know what we want. The state is open to that, but we can’t go there and say we’d like you to hire so and so.”

The bidding process takes about three months, Guzman said. The secretary of the DGS makes the final decision on the bids, but the lowest bidder does not always get the contract, because the DGS considers factors like minority and female ownership and ratios of workers.

Once the DGS hires the architects and construction firms, it prepares a schedule that the contractors agree to in writing.

Guzman said money is distributed by the DGS through the budget office under a complicated formula. Allocations are broken down so that 83.3 percent of the allocation goes toward construction, and 16.6 percent for design and contingency circumstances, such as fluctuations in material costs due to inflation.

“Say the state has authorized [and released] $20 million for a building, that’s $15.6 million for construction and $4.6 million for design and contingency,” Guzman said.

As a rule of thumb, the state will add another 10 percent of the construction costs (over and above the design and construction allocation) to pay for original equipment, also called FFE: furniture, fixtures and equipment — generally anything that is not tied down, she said.

By the time architects are hired, Pitt’s Facilities Management personnel have met with the building’s future University tenants to develop a “space program,” spelling out specific user needs. It’s one of the most important functions of the project manager, who is appointed by Facilities Management to protect the interests of the University.

The project manager is the point person who must be familiar with all aspects of the project, Guzman said. Facilities Management has established guidelines for the project manager to follow, she added.

Those guidelines include:

• Acting as liaison between the state professionals and the University’s users. Project managers become representatives for the University with the DGS, and go over the heads of architects and contractors if necessary.

• Pitt controls the look of the new building and specifies all materials. The project manager makes sure there is no alteration in any specifications.

• If, in drawing up cost estimates with the designated architects the estimates are over budget, the project manager consults with the building’s future tenants on where to cut back based on their priority needs.

Design approvals usually take about a year, Guzman said. Construction still can’t begin, however, because the project also is subject to the city’s approval processes, including reviews for zoning code compliance, City Planning approval and often City Council approval if the project was not included in (or has significantly changed from) the University’s last city-approved master plan.

“Most of the University is within the institutional zone, which says what kinds of buildings are allowed. The City Planning commission has an aesthetics review. When it goes to the [full] commission for approval, there are public hearings,” Guzman said. “In essence, we do need to explain the logic of a building: What is the building’s function? What will it look like? How does it fit in with surrounding buildings and neighborhood? Will it conform to zoning regulations like set-back codes?

“Usually the city’s main concern is how the building touches the ground. In other words, making the building pedestrian-friendly, making our urban campus buildings neighborhood friendly,” Guzman said.

When a project finally gets the go-ahead to start construction, a DGS-mandated scheduled is agreed on. There are penalties in place for delays that cannot be justified as due to unforeseen circumstances, like severe bad weather or an inability to procure specified materials.

“It used to be we had to transfer ownership of the land to the state for the life of the 30-year bonds before the state would transfer ownership of the building and the land back to us,” Guzman said. Now the state leases the property, usually at a nominal fee, during construction. “After the building is completed and meets all city codes, including safety codes, [the state] transfers ownership of the building and the land back to the University,” she said.

Things actually are simpler today than, say, a decade ago, Guzman pointed out. Starting in 1998, then-Gov. Tom Ridge, under an agreement with Pitt, said that the state would release to the University $20 million annually for five years for capital projects.

“We’re [expecting that agreement] to be extended at least for one year,” Guzman said. “The agreement gave us the sense of order of what funding was going to come, because in the past traditionally there was no agreement of how much we would get or when.”

—Peter Hart

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