Way, Way Overdue

 

Since opening in 1970, Buley Library has been at the center of Southern Connecticut State University, both literally and figuratively—an academic hub situated in the middle of the school’s well-manicured 168-acre campus. For years, however, the building has been sitting empty, the past six months as nothing more than an exposed girder-and-beam husk. It’s the most recent phase of a glacial renovation and expansion project that will eventually cost $63 million and take more than a decade to complete.

In academic terms, that means two-and-a-half generations of Southern students will have come and gone through their four years of study without ever setting foot in the completed library. On the plus side, there is a finished 135,000-square-foot addition that has been fully functioning as library space since 2008. Still, it’s going to be at least another two years before the original Buley Library will again be open to students.

“Sometimes it’s hard to not be frustrated by this project,” says Robert Sheeley, Southern’s associate vice president for capital budgeting and facilities operations, who says he’s suffered through “a lot of sleepless nights” since the project began in Fall 2004. “We are really, really anxious to get this done.”

Named in honor of former university president Hilton C. Buley (1954-71), the building had adequately served the school’s library needs for more than three decades. In August 2004, Southern gained approval for a $61.7 million grant from the state bond commission for a renovation as well as the aforementioned addition, and broke ground on the project shortly thereafter. The addition took four years to complete and was opened in 2008; everything was transferred from the original building to the new one. But then the project ground to a halt.

The university terminated the contract with the project’s contractor, the Pike Co. of Rochester, N.Y., and the two sides entered into litigation for two years before a settlement could be reached. (Citing the restrictions of the ensuing settlement, Sheeley can say only, “The contract was terminated for ‘non-performance.’”) Meanwhile, renovation of the original library building remained in limbo.

In June 2010, new life was breathed into the project by interim university president Dr. Stanley F. Battle. To continue, $17 million had to be reallocated from the long-term capital infrastructure “Connecticut State University System 2020” improvement plan, which meant the deferment of other projects such as the construction of a new 450-car parking garage. The state legislature and Gov. Dannel Malloy approved the revised plan in July 2011.

The delays had taken so many years, however, that there was a new problem: The needs and role of a campus library in the digital age had dramatically changed.

“Although we feel there’s an appropriate place for hardcover books, and have quite a bit of space for them in the existing addition—we really didn’t think we needed to have all the stack space in the renovation,” says Sheeley, who adds that the university spent nine months with library consultants before bringing in a new architectural firm to upgrade the original plans. “We have now reallocated the space for other usages, such as a new home for our data center. We’re also putting in an Internet café—a place where students can go in, plug in their laptop and have a cup of coffee and study.”

Of course, the big question remaining is that even with the stop for litigation, why has it taken so long? By comparison, the Michael J. Adanti Student Center, which broke ground less than 40 yards away around the same time in 2004, was completed in 2006 and cost only $23 million.

“There are a lot of moving parts in a big project like this,” says Jeffrey Beckham, a spokesman for the state Department of Construction Services, who cites the need for state projects, once approved, to go through lengthy bonding and bidding processes for financing, design and construction. “If it’s a big project like this, it also gets phased over years—in other words, we allocate some of the money for it this year, and then work on it for a couple of years, and then we allocate the additional monies down the road, trying to fit it into that capital budget that the entire state has to live with on an annual basis.

“Speed is a good thing, but public health and safety are important, as is making sure that procurement happens the way it’s supposed to,” he adds, acknowledging the frustration. “It has to be done in an open, competitive way so that taxpayers can be assured they’re getting value for their dollar and that there’s no favoritism, no nepotism and no steering of contracts to favored campaign contributors. We have to do things openly and competitively, and that just takes longer than we might prefer.”
 

Way, Way Overdue

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