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November 23, 2005

Pitt plans new health & safety building

Pitt will construct a three-story building to house the campus police department.

The $6 million, 26,000 sq. ft. building, to be constructed on the parking lot adjacent to the Eureka Building at the intersection of Forbes Avenue and Halket Street, was one of some $55 million worth of construction projects approved Nov. 11 by the Board of Trustees property and facilities committee. That committee is authorized to oversee property transactions in excess of $500,000 and approve University construction projects costing more than $1 million.

In addition to the new University Health and Safety Building, the trustees’ committee approved five other Pittsburgh campus construction and renovation projects and three lease agreements.

According to Pitt Executive Vice Chancellor Jerome Cochran, who presented the projects to the committee, Pitt is building the health and safety facility because the University wants police and safety officials to be more visible in the Oakland area.

“We believe that construction of a building on Forbes Avenue makes for straightforward public accessibility and provides visibility,” unlike the below-ground levels of Posvar Hall where the campus police headquarters are housed currently, Cochran said. “For people coming to Oakland up Forbes from Downtown, one of the first things they’ll see is a public safety building with a parking lot behind it with a large number of police vehicles. People in the community will know where to go when they have an issue for the police.”

The need for a new building stems from a combination of factors, Cochran maintained, including the lack of a city police station in the Oakland area and the need for larger and more modern quarters for a University police force that has expanded since 1998 from 98 employees to 133 employees, including 74 commissioned officers. In addition, there is a need for a new home for the Department of Environmental Health and Safety, currently located in the basement under Benedum Hall auditorium, which has additional responsibilities and staff due primarily to expanded federal regulations on laboratory research, he said.

“More importantly,” Cochran maintained, “80 percent of criminal offenses handled by our University Police Department do not involve any student, faculty member, staff member or anybody that has anything to do with the University. [Pitt officers mainly perform] law enforcement handling crimes committed in the Oakland community.”

Chancellor Mark Nordenberg also endorsed the project. “The investment in the new public safety building will benefit not only those who work and study at the University but everyone who has a connection to the broader Oakland neighborhood,” Nordenberg said. “When you think about the fact that Oakland is the third busiest commercial center in the commonwealth and yet Oakland does not have a city police station, it means that the University of Pittsburgh police department, which has a $7 million annual budget, is shouldering a big part of the load [for law enforcement].”

(The city closed Police Station No. 4 in Oakland in August 2003, according to a Pitt community relations official. Calls to the city police from the Oakland area are dispatched to the Squirrel Hill police station, according to Pitt’s campus police department.)

The health and safety building is in the early stages of design, Cochran said, but is expected to include a parking deck and surface parking area to accommodate 54 parking spaces and a motorcycle storage area. The building will serve as the hub for a campus-wide security monitoring command center, he said.

Funding for the $6 million construction project will come from University debt; the estimated annual operating costs of $530,000 will come out of the educational and general operating budget. A construction schedule for the building has not been set.

The property and facilities committee also approved $600,000 in additional funding to repair the roof of the Petersen Events Center. Last December, Pitt and the state’s Department of General Services filed multiple law suits against the building’s architects and roofing contractors, alleging flawed designs that caused heating and ventilation problems, unreasonable delays in construction time, poor craftsmanship and damages due to improperly installed and defective roofing materials. (See Jan. 6 University Times.)

Those law suits are still pending, Pitt officials said.

In June, the committee had okayed $5.6 million for the roof replacement project. (See June 23 University Times.)

According to background materials distributed at the Nov. 11 meeting, the $600,000 additional funding is required “to address a significant unforeseen condition discovered when the existing roof system was completely removed.”

“I want to make sure everybody fully understands the nature of this project,” Cochran said. “As you’ll recall, because of the multiple problems we had with Petersen Events Center construction, undertaken and managed by contractors appointed by the commonwealth — with the contractors, architects, etc., that they selected — we’ve identified specific problems for which we have initiated legal proceedings to try to make up for the money that we were required to pay once the state had spent its maximum [earmarked] to the project.”

When the property and facilities committee approved the $5.6 million project last June, Cochran said, “we did make it clear at that time, that once we ripped that roof off, we would then determine if there were other issues involved that may affect the replacement of that roof. We did in fact find a problem that was heretofore not known: that is, the steel trusses that support that roof were not manufactured and installed as they were designed and did not meet the specifications. In many instances the trusses were five inches shorter than they were designed to be.”

The committee background materials stated, “The new roof system could not be installed until an engineering resolution to correct this condition was identified, designed and the repair installed for the entire roof to provide for the proper curvature of the roof. This situation resulted in additional forensics costs to investigate and document the condition.”

Once that condition was rectified, the roof work was completed, Cochran said. “The roof project is complete, the roof is on, it’s safe, it’s firm, and we’re happy with the project we undertook,” he said.

In other actions, the Board of Trustees property and facilities committee:

• Approved construction of step 2 of a Regional Bio-containment Laboratory at the Biomedical Science Tower 3. Step 1 of the project was approved by the property and facilities committee in April 2004.

The lab will occupy 27,300 sq. ft. and will include bio-safety level 3 laboratories consistent with the standards established by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).

The facility, which is expected to cost $28.8 million, also will be equipped to assist national, state and local public health efforts in the event of an emergency, according to background materials.

The lab also will support the bio-defense research activities of NIAID, which is providing $21.6 million for the project. The $7.2 million balance will be paid from Health Sciences debt service funding. Annual operating costs are expected to be $1 million, which will be funded by the Office of the Senior Vice Chancellor for Health Sciences.

• Approved the installation of three more boilers in the Carrillo Street Steam Plant, located behind Trees Hall. The $6.8 million project, which will double the number of boilers in the steam plant, will be funded by $5.3 million in commonwealth funds and $1.5 million from UPMC.

• Approved laboratory renovations on the 4th and 5th floors of Langley Hall. Renovations include interior construction, building systems improvements (mechanical, electrical, telecommunications, fire protection), signage, surface treatments and added laboratory equipment. The total projected cost of the project is $4.5 million, to be funded by the provost and Arts and Sciences reserves.

• Approved 15th floor renovations in the Biomedical Science Tower. The $3 million project, to be funded by UPMC, will reconfigure approximately 60 percent of laboratory space on the west side of the 15th floor to accommodate the expanded needs of the Starzl Transplantation Institute.

• Approved a lease agreement between Pitt and the Sterling Land Co. for space in the One Sterling Plaza building at 201 N. Craig St.

Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic will relocate several research programs currently in Bellefield Towers and Thomas Detre Hall, including the Center for Late Life Mood Disorders, the Center for Adult Mood Disorders and the Center for Bipolar Disorder.

Costs of the five-year lease of 31,860 sq. ft. will be covered by in-hand program grants for these centers.

• Approved two leases between Pitt and Cityview Properties, LLC.

Pitt will lease 11,300 sq. ft. of space on the 1st and mezzanine floors in the Parkvale Building at 200 Meyran Ave. to house the Center for Biomedical Informatics. The five-year agreement, at a fixed annual cost of $268,000 plus reimbursement to the landlords for Pitt’s pro-rata share of real estate taxes, will provide the center with a central training location, as well as space to support research, teaching and administrative functions. Funding will come from research grants secured by the biomedical informatics center.

In addition, Pitt will lease 6,500 sq. ft. of space on the 2nd floor of the Parkvale Annex Building at 3520 Forbes Ave. to house the Department of Neurological Surgery, currently in Scaife Hall.

The five-year lease will cost the University a fixed annual fee of $154,000 plus reimbursement to the landlords for Pitt’s pro-rata share of real estate taxes. Funding will come from research grants secured by the department’s programs.

Cochran noted at the Nov. 11 meeting that when Pitt rents space in a commercial building it pays real estate taxes.

Nordenberg elaborated that the approved projects represent an investment in the future of Pittsburgh and western Pennsylvania in terms of its economy, safety of its streets and quality of its environment.

“Almost everyone is recognizing today that University-based research really is big business and a growth industry in this region,” the chancellor said. “The education and knowledge sector has been the single biggest producer of new jobs in this region in the last decade. The University alone has increased its employment base by 25 percent, almost exclusively driven by the research dollars that we’re importing into this community.”

—Peter Hart

Filed under: Feature,Volume 38 Issue 7

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