Firm shares floor plans for SEC

The company charged with programming the Science and Engineering Complex presented three floor plans to GW’s Faculty Senate Friday, but neither the firm nor the administration could offer a price for the project, eliciting concerns from faculty over the project’s feasibility.

Since November, Ballinger – the Philadelphia-based architectural company hired to program the SEC – has been meeting with deans and students to design potential building plans based on the University’s needs. The building is set to include lab and classroom space, and offer a home for the engineering school and other science departments. But at Friday’s meeting, a number of Faculty Senate members expressed concern over a lack of communication between the administration and the University community.

Outspoken critic of the project Donald Parsons said the University is continuing to misplace its priorities with the SEC.

“Is it any surprise then that after 10 years of stumbling forward on the SEC, and a mere eight months from its planned approval by the Board of Trustees, that the Administration does not yet have a ballpark cost figure for the SEC to share with the academic community?” Parsons said in an e-mail after the meeting. “As long as the Administration’s SEC building dreams take priority over educating GW students, cost is not an issue.”

Other professors at the meeting asked Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Donald Lehman about the price of the building – which has not been released – and when that information would be available. Estimated costs from a 2008 Faculty Senate report put the price tag at around $300 million, but an official cost has not yet been determined by the University, Lehman said.

“What I don’t see is a well-presented business plan that you would expect any entrepreneur that is going to seek venture capital investments to [have] to undertake such an exciting [project],” professor Theodore Barnhill said.

Other faulty concerns included safety, and the lack of a bridge or tunnel connecting the complex to Ross Hall.

University President Steven Knapp has previously said that student tuition will not be used to fund the complex; instead, GW will take on debt for the project, and repay the debt through fundraising, revenue from Square 54, and governmental research grants.

At the Faculty Senate meeting, Lehman and Senior Associate Vice President for Operations Alicia O’Neil both said the project has many phases to complete before a realistic price can be presented, but they plan on having a concrete cost estimate before the October Board of Trustees meeting. It is at this meeting the Board is slated to approve funding for the project.

“We are at the very beginning of the planning process,” O’Neil said at the meeting on Friday. “We are at stop one of many and our target right now is that we get the GW Board of Trustees to review and eventually approve this project.”

There are three phases in the construction of the project: first, the programming phase – what Ballinger is currently undertaking, the second, a design phase, and the third, the actual building phase. O’Neil said Ballinger and the firm eventually chosen to actually build the complex will focus on making the building usable for at least 50 to 100 years.

Ballinger announced at the senate meeting that the lot is over 56,000 square feet in size and the actual building would probably occupy about 50,000 square feet per floor. The building would also offer 300 to 400 parking spots, down from 1,200 the spots currently housed in the University Parking Garage.

About a half of the building’s net square footage – the space that can be actually used for classes, offices and lab spaces – will be used to house research and teaching labs, as well as research centers. Ballinger’s design is for the building to have eight floors above ground and six below, four floors of which are for parking.

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