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Budget slows Meinel addition

DEREKH FROUDE/Arizona Daily Wildcat
John Greivenkamp, optical sciences professor and the faculty consultant for the new optical sciences building, looks over the scale model for the building yesterday afternoon. The opening of the new addition to the building has been moved back until at least November.
By Bob Purvis
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday February 27, 2003

Bids for optical sciences building exceed $17M budget

When UA officials lifted their shovels to break ground on a multimillion-dollar expansion to an optics research facility in September, they said it would solidify Tucson as "Optics Valley."

However, what was supposed to be a full-fledged construction site in the nexus of Optics Valley remains the small dirt patch construction workers dug six months ago.

Construction plans for the Meinel optical sciences addition, located at North Cherry Avenue and East University Boulevard, recently came to a halt when contractors' initial bids eclipsed the $17.2 million budget set for the project.

The budget setbacks will push the expansion's projected opening from August to November at the soonest, said May Carr, project manager for the optical sciences addition.

"Initial bids are higher than we are budgeted," said Melissa Dryden, public information coordinator for facilities design and construction. "We are re-examining to make cuts where we can without changing the design."
Artist's rendering courtesy of Optical Sciences
Construction plans for the Meinel optical sciences addition, located at North Cherry Avenue and East University Boulevard, recently came to a halt when contractors' initial bids eclipsed the $17.2 million budget set for the project.

Members of the department of optical sciences say Meinel is crunched for space. The 47,000 square-foot addition would nearly double the size of the building.

"We are really in need of space and the new facilities, so we are definitely disappointed it's been pushed back," said John Greivenkamp, an optical sciences professor and the user representative to the architectural team.

Dryden said that facilities design and construction has put forth a "big effort" to tighten up the budget, cutting costs wherever possible.

"We are streamlining the project and looking at every thing. We are saying, ╬OK, we can get rid of this bench to save money,'" Dryden said.

Final bids for the project are scheduled for March 11 and Dryden remains hopeful that the project will be underway before the end of the month.

Carr said that an intense brainstorming process resulted in the reconfiguring of lighting systems and other cost-saving measures that will help them make the budget feasible.

"We are hoping to make the budget," Carr said. "That is the plan right now."

Carr said that the process of budget negotiations is difficult but won't affect the overall quality of the project, adding that even minor alterations are still up for debate.

"There were a few benches taken out of the plan, but we are hoping to get them back," Carr said jokingly.

Along with an 8,500 square-foot renovation, the expansion would make Meinel a world-class research facility, Carr said.

The college remains eager for construction to get underway regardless of the budget woes, Greivenkamp said.

"We are all really excited about the opening of the facility," he added.

Some of the funding to cover the wing's $17.2 million price tag comes from Proposition 301 and some comes from research grants, Greivenkamp said.

Proposition 301 is a 0.6 percent sales tax that voters approved in 2000. UA's share ¸ about $16.3 to $20.1 million per year ¸ provides money for biotechnology, bioscience, information technology, optics, water, math and science teacher preparation.

The current funding level for outside research projects is $11.5 million per year, but Greivenkamp hopes the new building will increase that amount by $1 million each year, up to $15.5 million.

The widespread construction of research facilities will be evident in the future as the university enters the new era of Focused Excellence, UA President Pete Likins said.

"The addition to Meinel marks a major shift driven by external expectations on the university," Likins said.

The expansion of the 32-year-old building will feature an entry-level plaza, new teaching and research laboratories, a new exhibit-intensive lobby, an expanded reading room, faculty offices, informal discussion areas and conference space.

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