In an unprecedented moment in campus history, UC Irvine administrators have been forced to suspend a construction project due to lack of state funding, a direct result of the statewide budget crisis. Suspension of a second project is imminent, while the future of four more campus construction projects may be in jeopardy.
On Dec. 17, 2008, the California Pooled Money Investment Board, which manages the state’s cash flow, voted to freeze all funding for about 2,000 state supported capital projects to protect California cash reserves from depletion.
As a result, UCI construction on the arts building, a $42 million, 64,000 square foot space funded entirely by state money, was halted on Monday, Jan. 12.
Administrators were forced to issue a 90-day suspension, the longest possible under contract, to the contractor Edge Development, placing 46 individuals out of work.
The suspension of a second project, which is located in the medical school, is imminent. Construction of the Telemedicine/Medical Education Building will cease in the first week of February, leaving the project approximately 40 percent complete.
Including the Arts and Telemedicine sites, six current on-campus construction projects are supported at least in part by the state. However, four projects have enough private funding to continue without state aid, at least temporarily, including the Humanities Gateway, Social and Behavioral Sciences, Engineering III and a stem cell research building.
Only one of these projects, Engineering Unit III, is expected to be completed without the reestablishment of state funding, but changes to landscaping may be needed to finish on budget.
If state funding for these projects cannot be reestablished shortly, the results could be “financially catastrophic,” said Richard Lynch, Associate Vice Chancellor of the Budgeting Office at UC Irvine.
After the private funding runs out, UCI will have to make the difficult decision of choosing whether to complete certain projects with its own funds, or wait for state funding to be reinstated.
“I don’t think we’d be able to independently finish them all,” Lynch said, “This is so unprecedented. I can’t tell you how the administrative process or decision-making process would work. We’d just have to address it the best we could.”
According to Lynch, there are many issues with restarting construction on any project after a long period of time, and the process is expensive. Construction sites have to be secured, and bidding for another contractor may prove challenging; a new contractor may be reluctant to guarantee or continue old work.
Across the state, the frozen funding has delayed freeway repairs, school renovations, park restorations and construction at other UC schools.
UCI currently has the best record for completing construction projects of any UC institution, said Robert Fritch, campus director of Construction & Inspection.
“We’re consistently on schedule and on budget on all our projects,” Fritch said. “For UCI, we’ll manage around this. But for [California], this is a pretty sad state of affairs.”