GW misses SMPA opening deadline

A race to finish the new School of Media and Public Affairs building by Tuesday fell short, forcing GW officials to reschedule more than 80 classes to rooms in Hillel, the Marvin Center and other campus buildings. The University plans to move all classes to the new facility Jan. 29.

After receiving daily updates of the construction progress, Vice President of Communications Mike Freedman said he made the final decision to postpone the building’s opening Wednesday when it was still uncertain whether the University would have a permit to allow students to enter the building. Freedman said he was also concerned students would have a bad first impression of the building, which still lacked paint on walls, projectors in classrooms, doors on hinges, a completed sidewalk and seats in a lower-level classroom on Monday.

“We’d like everyone to have a good first impression when they walk in there,” Freedman said. “I’d rather have people walk on smooth pavement than a pothole.”

Construction officials worked seven days a week throughout winter break to complete four classrooms on two floors and the main level that were scheduled to open Tuesday.

D.C. inspectors said Friday that GW would be granted a partial Certificate of Occupancy – allowing GW to use the lower, main and third floors – but Senior Project Manager Merrill Lambert said the University could not be sure until it picked the permit up Tuesday morning.

“When we have (the partial Certificate of Occupancy) in our hands, then we have it,” Lambert said.

A building must have access to and from the property, a functioning sprinkler system and be reasonably clean to pass inspection for the certificate, Lambert said.

Although the building is considered safe to enter when a Certificate of Occupancy is granted, the University uses higher standards to determine if a facility is ready for class, Lambert said.

“This `done’ and the University’s `done’ are two different things,” he said. “Just because you have a (Certificate of Occupancy) doesn’t mean it’s spick-and-span.”

Lambert said the two-week extension will make it easier to complete the final touches of the classrooms where classes are to be held this spring (one classroom on the third floor and lower level will not be used).

He said Sigal Construction was still working Monday under the impression that students would enter the building Tuesday. If a lower-level classroom is not completed by Jan. 29, the University will have no place to put students, Lambert said.

University officials met throughout the final weeks before winter break ended and came to a unanimous decision to postpone holding classes in the building for two weeks. GW set the Jan. 29 date to give enough time to clean work sites to make the building more presentable and to give professors and students a realistic guarantee that could be met, Freedman said.

Associate Vice President for Academic Planning and Special Projects Craig Linebaugh said he agreed with the decision to postpone the opening so that final touches could be put on classrooms – such as properly configuring projectors. He also said the new deadline ensures that GW would not have to keep pushing the move-in date back if work was not completed.

“When we do begin to use (the new classrooms), I want them to be as ready as they can be,” Linebaugh said.

Freedman said construction slowed because of worker shortages during the holidays and cold weather in December.

Roger Lyons, executive director of Facilities Management, said last week that there were no worker shortages that he did not anticipate.

“We didn’t get as many (workers) as we’d liked, but we got as many as we anticipated,” Lyons said last week. “It’s on the exact pace we anticipated,”

“If it was moving on the pace that it was supposed to, it would be done,” Freedman said.

Project managers and officials involved with SMPA planning, including Freedman, said GW created an ambitious construction schedule considering the technology used in the building and difficulty construction companies are having finding enough workers to complete projects on time.

“For the longest period of time it has been a race down to the wire,” Lyons said.

“It is an aggressive schedule, there’s no doubt about it, and they’ve come real close,” Lambert said.

Linebaugh said classes will begin moving into the building as soon as classrooms are ready, and that some classes might move in as early as the end of the week.

Linebaugh said Academic Affairs created the back-up plan for classes in October and received official notification that they would need it Wednesday. Classes, which include a variety of courses from the Columbian School of Arts in Sciences, are rescheduled in many rooms without tables or arm rests to write on, he said.
While many students will not have desks to write on, all relocated students will have
a chair, Linebaugh said.

Freedman, who teaches an SMPA course on the history of radio, said he will teach the 15 students in his class in his Rice Hall office.

Linebaugh said the inconvenience of moving classes to less desirable rooms will be worth it once students enter the building with state-of-the art technology.

“It is worth a couple of weeks of writing (in) laps to get into these classrooms,” he said.

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