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November 9, 1995

Capital projects committee urges non-academic use of Bellefield

Whether Pitt will turn Bellefield Hall into a performing and studio arts center appears to be in doubt.

The $8 million renovation project, along with several other Pitt capital plans, has been on hold since April. That's when then-Chancellor J. Dennis O'Connor ordered a re-examination of all campus construction and renovation projects requiring Pitt physical plant funds.

O'Connor appointed a Capital Projects Priorities Committee, chaired by Provost James Maher, to study the various projects and recommend which ones should be given high priority, which should be re-defined and which, if any, should be scrapped.

A draft report by the committee recommends that the administration "seriously consider non-academic uses" for Bellefield Hall rather than convert it into an arts center, Interim Chancellor Mark Nordenberg told the University Times. One of the committee's recommendations is to renovate the building's gym and other sports facilities to provide much-needed student recreation and intramural space, Nordenberg said.

Provost Maher said it would be "premature" to conclude that Pitt's senior administration has ruled out the arts center concept for Bellefield Hall. Of the capital projects committee's report, he said: "It's not meaningless, obviously, but I want to emphasize that it is a draft." Final administrative decisions on major Pitt capital projects won't be made until March, when an inventory of existing academic space on the Pittsburgh campus will be completed, Maher said. The inventory, the first of its kind at Pitt, will provide cost estimates of renovating space that is currently unused or underused, he said. "After that, we will be able to re-examine our capital projects and do a better job of matching academic space needs to the space in existing buildings. Then we can make decisions about new construction.

"Our maintenance costs are sufficiently high and are a sufficient constraint on the rest of our budget that it's not to the advantage of any of our academic programs if we build too much," Maher added.

Nordenberg said Pitt's senior administration remains strongly committed to three large-scale Oakland projects that would be jointly funded by Pitt and the state's Operation Jump Start program: a 100,000 square foot addition to Hillman Library; a 12,500-seat convocation center planned for a site adjacent to Pitt Stadium; and a 180,000 square foot Multi-Purpose Academic Complex planned for a site along Forbes between Oakland Avenue and Bouquet Street.

Significant renovations of Bellefield Hall, located at 315 S. Bellefield Ave., are badly needed and are expected to go forward at some point, although the administration has not decided whether to spend the full $8 million allocated to the project through the state's Jump Start program, said L. Thomas Hussey, associate vice chancellor for Facilities Management.

Under an agreement signed by Pitt and state officials in March 1994, the state agreed to spend $5 million to renovate Bellefield Hall, with the University contributing $3 million.

Pitt's master space plan for University development in Oakland, approved by the city planning commission in April 1995, calls for a two-phase renovation of the 110,000 square foot Bellefield Hall. The first phase included masonry repair and installation of a new roof and windows. The second phase called for interior renovations to accommodate the departments of theatre arts, studio arts, and music, as well as performance space. While the master plan was approved by both the University administration and the city, Pitt's Board of Trustees stopped short of endorsing the plan on the grounds that the board lacked sufficient data on the plan's fiscal implications. Six months later, Bellefield Hall and the other capital projects were put on hold.

In the three years since Pitt announced its Jump Start projects, the University has spent $140,000 in Bellefield Hall for painting and lighting upgrades, conversion of storage space into classrooms and offices, and other improvements, according to Facilities Management. A Pitt task force assigned to study student recreation needs plans to propose that the University spend an additional $125,000 to upgrade Bellefield Hall's gym and other recreation spaces as "a fairly quick and cost-effective means of enhancing recreational and intramural facilities for our students," said Leon Haley, vice chancellor for Public and Student Affairs. The task force is part of a larger committee appointed by Provost Maher to recommend ways of improving student recruitment and retention.

Haley estimated that the improvements, if approved by the senior administration, could open Bellefield Hall to students as a lower campus recreation center as early as winter 1996. The proposal does not call for re-opening the building's swimming pool — a project that could cost as much as $100,000 because of cracks in the pool and damage to the underlying ground, according to Facilities Management.

If Pitt's arts departments do find themselves shut out of Bellefield Hall, studio arts department chairperson Michael Morrill said it would not surprise him. "My sense of the situation recently has been that the Bellefield Hall project was off for us, although I have not heard anything definitive about it in recent months," he said. "But based on some hints and comments I've been hearing, it doesn't look good." Music department Don Franklin said he had not been updated on the project in months until he inquired about it at the Faculty of Arts and Sciences dean's office six weeks ago. "I was told that the project was on hold until the University raised its share of the money for it. If it's true that the [arts center] project is off, we in our department would be disappointed that the University administration did not take this opportunity to give greater visibility to the arts at Pitt." The University Times could not reach theatre arts chairperson W. Stephen Coleman for comment yesterday.

The following are updates on Pitt's nine other Jump Start projects. The year that a project was "authorized" by the state indicates when the Legislature approved it in principle. But each authorized project remains unfunded, often for years, until the state releases money specifically for it. Some authorized projects never receive state funding.

The Jump Start program, initiated by the Casey administration in 1992 to stimulate the state economy, offered Pitt and other state-funded universities partial funding of authorized projects; the universities agreed to pay for the rest of the project costs. Universities agreed to participate in Jump Start because the program released at least some state money for their authorized projects.

Campus safety systems upgrade, Pittsburgh campus — A $5 million project, originally authorized by the state in 1990 and funded entirely by Commonwealth money. The project includes new automatic fire alarms, sprinkler and emergency generating systems and a modernized central security system. Final contract documents have been signed, and the University will advertise for bids this month. "We expect construction to begin in March 1996 and for the project to be completed in spring 1997," said Hussey of Facilities Management.

Children and Youth Center — An addition to Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic. It would house children and adolescent psychiatric outpatient research and administrative programs currently in Bellefield Towers, Webster Hall and the Parkvale building. Authorized for $12 million in 1988, the project was originally to have cost $30 million but was scaled back to $18 million ($9 million each from Pitt and the state). The project is on hold while administrators at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center "evaluate the full impact of managed care and the changing stream of funding for mental health services," according to UPMC's Department of Architecture and Engineering Services.

Convocation Center — Originally authorized in 1988 for $30 million, the project now is expected to cost $52 million (in 1995 dollars). Under Jump Start, the state agreed to provide $13 million, with the University to pay the rest of the costs. Interim Chancellor Nordenberg said Pitt will continue to plead its case for additional state funding for the project. The University still hopes to complete the project in fall 1998, although Facilities Management estimates the center will take 17 months to design, four months to bid and 25 months to build. Private fund-raising has not yet begun for the project.

Hillman Library Addition — The current, but still preliminary, design calls for a 100,000 square foot tower to be built adjacent to Hillman between the library and Forbes Quadrangle. "Once the administration has approved a basic preliminary design, the more formal architectural design stage will take about 15 months," said Hussey. "Construction could take a couple of years, depending on the design." Authorized for $8 million in 1990; the Jump Start amount is $19 million ($7 million from the state, $12 million from Pitt).

Multi-purpose Academic Center — Authorized for $22.8 million in two state bills in 1986 and 1988; the Jump Start amount is $31.4 million ($20 million from the state, $11.4 million from Pitt). Some preliminary design work was done before Pitt's administration put the project on hold last April.

Greensburg campus: Library/Administration Building — Not originally in the Pitt Jump Start projects announced in 1992, it was added later. The $6.6 million, 55,000 square foot facility was dedicated on May 5; it was funded by $5.6 million in state money and $1 million raised by the Greensburg campus.

Greensburg campus: Smith Hall renovation — Involves replacing the roof and renovating mechanical and electrical systems. Authorized for $1.2 million in 1990; the Jump Start amount is $1.8 million ($1,080,000 from the state, $720,000 from Pitt). Final architectural drawings are complete, and Pitt recently asked the state to release the project for bidding. Johnstown campus: Engineering and Science Building and System Renovations — A $1.3 million renovation ($790,000 from the state, $510,000 from Pitt) to upgrade mechanical and electrical systems and labs. The project was authorized in 1990 for $970,000. Harrisburg will release the project for bidding in January, and it is expected to be completed in fall 1996, Hussey said.

Titusville campus: Science Center — Construction of a new building to house chemistry, biology and physics classrooms and labs, a lecture hall, an auditorium, and offices. Authorized for $10.6 million in 1988; the Jump Start amount is $5.73 million ($2.6 million from the state, $3.13 million from Pitt). "We hope to start construction in spring '96 and complete the project in fall '97," said Hussey.

— Bruce Steele

Filed under: Feature,Volume 28 Issue 6

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