Construction investments soon to be reality

The Watson Team Center has been constructed in place of an old flower wholesaler. Photo by Gunnhildur Baldursdottir / The Jambar

By Gunnhildur Baldursdottir

Students might have noticed the near-completion of construction projects from all directions on campus. 

John Hyden, associate vice president of University Facilities, said one construction project

on Western Avenue is a replacement of a previous flower wholesaler with a facility for engineering competition teams called Frank and Norma Watson Team Center.

Hyden said the estimated project cost is $2 to $3 million. Frank Watson and his wife, Norma Watson, donated a significant amount to the project, which is where the facility obtained its name.  

“There’s the Baja car, the high mileage vehicle and the robotics team. All of those engineering teams that compete throughout the country were kind of spread out in Moser Hall over the years, and now they have their own home and workshops,” Hyden said. 

Hyden said the project started this past spring and should have been completed in August. The construction slowed down primarily because of labor shortages and delays in materials, such as a high-voltage switchgear. 

Danny O’Connell, director of Support Services, said another prominent project is the construction of a 163-space parking lot on Lincoln Avenue with an estimated cost of $800,000. 

A plot of land remains in the wake of the former M-60 Parking Deck. Hyden explained why the project has been pushed back. 

“There was a legal action taken by one of the bidders, which delayed the award of that contract,” Hyden said. “And we didn’t have enough time to get a lot done before the asphalt plants closed down for the winter.” 

O’Connell said the department is pleased with the successful teardown and stated all materials were recycled. Because of safety reasons, the two upper levels of the parking garage were closed and only 300 out of 1260 parking spaces were used in the M-60. The maintenance of the parking garage would have been too expensive in the long run. 

The project will begin again next spring semester, 2023.

“We haven’t filled up our parking at all this semester. We know we have enough parking. However, we needed a lot to handle accessible parking, so that’s the primary purpose of the new parking lot there [M-60],” O’Connell said.

A few buildings away, a reconstruction of a tunnel built in the 1970s is dug out on Elm Street. Hyden said the tunnel’s structural integrity had to be restored because of its deterioration. To close the work, a new sidewalk is being placed over the top of the tunnel. 

“We have a series of tunnels that run through campus … And it’s a big concrete box that you can walk through. It’s not terribly spacious, but it’s full of pipes and wires and cabling that feed utilities throughout the campus,” Hyden said. 

A $2 million building extension was expected to be completed in October in the Butler Institute of American Art. Louise Zona, the Butler’s executive director, said the slow delivery of materials has challenged builders.

“We have a contractor who’s very patient with the whole process, but the reality is materials that are arriving very slowly. I think there are a lot of factors that are involved in the slowdown,” Zona said.

Zona said part of the two-floor building will be used for art storage with humidity and temperature controls with new light fixtures. Plans are already in the making for the first art shows in the new building.