The University’s highest governing body voted unanimously Friday to approve the Science and Engineering Complex, effectively laying the cornerstone for GW’s plan to raise its research profile.
The Board of Trustees’ vote was largely a ceremonial one, as planning for the SEC has been going on for two decades and has cost the University tens of millions of dollars. A source close to the vote said there was little debate between the trustees involved in the executive session. Within minutes of the board’s approval, the University launched a pre-made website touting the project.
“I’m thrilled and ready to go pop a bottle of champagne,” Board of Trustees Chairman Russell Ramsey said after the meeting.
The SEC is estimated to cost the University $275 million, and is expected to improve research by providing a physical space the University hopes will be used for innovative studies.
“This facility is essential for recruiting top faculty and students to our University,” President Steven Knapp said.
The board’s approval comes on the heels of the Faculty Senate meeting Oct. 8, when professors voted to request more information about the price of the complex. The Faculty Senate has expressed concern over the project in the past, questioning if the price for the engineering- and science-focused building is justifiable for a University known for its international affairs and political science programs.
The $275 million estimate for the project is on par with the first cost estimate presented by the Faculty Senate in 2008, which said the center could cost between $180 million and $270 million without equipment. University spokeswoman Candace Smith said last month the new $275 million estimate includes equipment and furniture. The estimate does not include the cost of hiring new professors to staff the departments, nor does it include costs to maintain the level of financial aid given to engineering students who receive some of the highest levels of aid at GW.
The University’s estimate is far below the one economics professor Anthony Yezer gave The Hatchet in March. Yezer – who specializes in real estate economics and testified in front of Congress on mortgages during the financial crisis – conducted two different cost estimations and said a “conservative” cost estimate for the SEC is about $400 million.
GW plans to fund the complex through debt, revenue from Square 54 – recently dubbed The Avenue – and fundraising. Senior University officials have expressed the hope to fundraise at least $100 million to support the SEC.
Despite the concerns members of the board say they are confident the project will ultimately be beneficial to the University.
“This has been an aspiration for GW maybe as long as 40 years,” trustee Nelson Carbonell said. “This has been a real collaborative effort, including faculty, deans, alumni and the Board.”
The SEC is set to include about 400,000 square feet of above-grade space to house teaching and research laboratories for faculty and students in GW’s Columbian College of Arts and Sciences and the School of Engineering and Applied Science. The complex – will be located on the site of the current University Parking Garage at the corner of 22nd and H streets – will greatly increase classroom space and will move the science and engineering departments under a central roof.
The design by Ballinger Architects, a Philadelphia-based firm, calls for an eight-story building with an additional two levels below ground and four levels of underground parking. It will have a retail venue on the ground floor, but the type of venue has not been selected yet.
The main floor will be designated for non-science major education, and teaching space for science majors will be on the other floors. Research laboratories and office space will be interspersed throughout the building.
With the approval from the board, the University will now go forward with zoning permits. Construction is slated to begin in 2011 and the building will be finished in 2014. Students and faculty will begin using the space in 2015.