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University marks successful completion
of a decade of bond projects

What a difference a decade makes.

Just 10 years ago, in the basement of Hill Hall, steam pipes twisted above rows and rows of the department’s vast music library then valued at $26 million. One major leak could have resulted in disaster.

Across campus, world-class scientists conducted their research in makeshift labs set up in trailers.

Venable demolition

Venable Hall entered the dustbin of history when it was demolished in summer 2007. When Venable was built in 1923, the science complex symbolized the University’s march to modernity. At the start of a new century, though, it was presented to legislators as Exhibit A in the case for state money necessary to meet the University’s growing capital needs.

In fall 2000, voters overwhelmingly approved a $3.1 billion state bond referendum for higher education. The bond earmarked $84 million for the new Science Complex, a project the University was able to expand in scope with additional revenue to complete the multi-phased project.

Along Polk Place, students filled classrooms that had not been renovated since they were constructed in the 1920s.

The poster child for neglect, though, was Venable Hall, a massive brick building that looked more like a run-down factory than a center for the University’s top-rated chemistry and biology departments. In March 2000, Venable was one of the buildings legislators toured to see firsthand the magnitude of capital needs here.

Trying to conduct state-of-the-art research in those conditions was analogous to trying to break a new land speed record in a souped-up Model T, legislators were told. Sooner or later, new wheels are needed to stay in the race.

Weeks after completing their campus tours, legislators authorized a $3.1 billion statewide bond referendum, which voters approved the following fall.

This month will mark another historic milestone: the successful completion of 49 campus projects funded all or in part with the $515.23 million that was Carolina’s share of the bond proceeds.

Seizing the opportunity
Passing the bond referendum was the equivalent of passing Go in the game of Monopoly on the very first roll and collecting enough money to cover years of accumulated capital needs.

But University leaders did not stop there, said Bruce Runberg, associate vice chancellor for planning and construction.

“The infusion of the bond money served as an impetus for what would ultimately grow into one of the largest building programs undertaken by a major U.S. university,” Runberg said. “Thanks to bold and creative University leadership and generous support from our alumni and friends, we were able to combine bond money with other funding sources to a degree none of us could have dared imagine when we began.”

Between 2000 and 2009, the University invested a total of $2.31 billion for capital projects. Other funding sources in addition to the bond money were $1.4 billion in self-liquidating funds, $197.7 million in state funds and $153.06 million from renovation and repair funds and certificates of participation.

In the last decade, these funds have paid for 5.1 million square feet of building space – the equivalent of all the buildings at Wake Forest University. In addition, 3.4 million square feet of space has been renovated within existing buildings.

At the same time, various utility systems have been upgraded and expanded to meet the increasing needs for power throughout campus.

Construction projects also reflect the master plan’s emphasis on sustainability. One project that exemplifies that vision is the addition to Carrington Hall, which became the first LEED-certified building in the UNC system. The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System is a voluntary, consensus-based national standard for developing high-performance, sustainable buildings.

The recently completed Education Center at the North Carolina Botanical Garden is in the process of being platinum certified, LEED’s highest rating. When that happens, it will become the first state-owned building in North Carolina to win that distinction, Runberg said.

Connecting the dots
Even as University leaders enlisted support for the bond campaign, University planners were in the midst of what would become a three-year process of updating a campus master plan.

The confluence of the bond passage with a new campus master plan produced a unique opportunity for Carolina: a chance to put the principles of the master plan into action immediately – and over a sustained period of time.

In the northern part of campus, the master plan called for more room for research, historical preservation and strengthening the arts, with an arts corridor connecting Franklin Street and Cameron Avenue along South Columbia Street.

The master plan also set out to remake the southern end of campus, not only by building new residence halls, but also by adding programs and functions geared toward making student life richer and more connected than ever before.

The linchpin of this transformation was the Rams Head Center near Kenan Stadium, which was designed to become, in essence, a new end zone for student activity. Atop a 700-space parking garage is a dining hall and a two-story recreation center connected by a grassy plaza and walkways linking both ends of campus.

In conjunction, the Student and Academic Services Building at the corner of Manning Drive and Ridge Road now houses the Office of the University Registrar, the Department of Housing and Residential Education, the Office of the Dean of Students and other student organizations and support services.

A cause for celebration
The successful completion of bond projects is only part of a bigger campus construction success story, but it is an important milestone worth celebrating, Runberg said.

“We are grateful to the citizens of North Carolina for their support, but I also want to acknowledge the many people who seized upon the opportunity the bond issue presented and made the most of it,” he said.

The frenetic pace of campus expansion during the past decade left some to lament that UNC had begun to stand for the “University of Never-ending Construction.” Parking lots turned into staging areas and cranes taller than the Bell Tower seemed to have become ever-present fixtures on the horizon.

Now, however, evidence of the permanent benefit from all the construction is evident throughout campus.

Perhaps the most dramatic transformation is the replacement of Venable Hall with the Physical Science Complex.

Besides creating state-of-the-art research facilities, the complex is a testament to the University’s ability to use the bond money as a springboard to generate other revenue. Only $84 million of the total $205 million cost for the multi-phased project came from bond money.

The 49 bond projects are among the 114 projects Carolina has completed as part of its overall $2.3 billion capital program, Runberg said. Of the 41 remaining projects, 19 – worth a total of $625 million – are under construction, with another 22 projects – worth $409 million – in design.

Perhaps the crowning achievement of a capital program of such magnitude is that all the bond projects were completed on or below budget, and on time, Runberg said.

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INSIDE THE PRINT EDITION: February 10, 2010

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* *Carolina Counts Web site goes live

* *Faculty and staff survey will help assess workplace

* *University marks successful completion of a decade of bond projects

* *Morehead planetarium shows have gone world class

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