Budget impasse puts College of Dentistry renovations on hold

College of Dentistry roof (F)

Renovation of the College of Dentistry includes improved heating and cooling systems. Without state funding, the project stopped Nov. 9


Long-awaited renovations to the College of Dentistry started last January.

But 11 months into what was scheduled to be a two-year project, work has stopped because of the state budget impasse. Projected completion has been extended into 2017.

Although some ceilings are exposed, the building is safe and teaching, research and patient care continue. But temporarily relocated researchers and staff don’t know when they will return to labs and offices. Without a construction timeline, clinicians are unsure when to schedule patients.

The renovation is on hold until a state budget is approved, said Gregory Quinn, executive associate director of Capital Programs.

“We tried to keep the project moving forward, but we ran out of money,” he said. “With the impasse, it’s out of our hands.”

The university has received about one-third of the state appropriation for the $20 million project. Renovations paused in July when budget talks first stalled, but UIC provided $4 million to keep the work going, expecting that a budget would soon be approved and the money could be recouped from the state, Quinn said.

The project includes a sprinkler system to enhance safety, electrical upgrades such as new transformers and seven large air handlers to improve heating and cooling, said Brad Appier, associate director of project management services in Capital Programs.

The work stopped Nov. 9, Appier said. “They’ve removed the trailer, the equipment.”

Heating and cooling in the 40-year-old building has been an ongoing problem, said Susan Rowan, associate dean for clinical affairs. Ruptured pipes caused two major leaks in the past two years that caused more than $100,000 in damages.

The new air-handling units, similar to furnaces, use a computerized system to monitor airflow, Rowan said.

“This is going to improve the environment for the patients who sit and wait on the first floor, literally with coats, hats and gloves, where it’s 55 degrees,” she said. “And in the clinical areas, where it’s overwhelmingly warm. And for students who wear gloves in the lecture halls, then on the other side, when it’s 98 degrees in there.”

Some of the new air-flow equipment has been installed, but doesn’t work without the rest, Rowan said.

“Right now we’re kind of between two worlds,” she said. “We have half old stuff and half new stuff.”

The university provided funds to finish three other campus improvement projects that were nearly complete when the fiscal year started in July without a budget, Quinn said.

These include mechanical and electrical upgrades to Daley Library, skylights in the Engineering Research Facility and replacement windows in the College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs.

“Those projects just needed final closeouts,” he said. “The dentistry project was right in the middle and it’s our biggest.”

College of Dentistry leaders are reaching out to leaders in the dental community and Springfield to advocate for funding, Rowan said. Dentistry students wrote letters to Gov. Bruce Rauner, expressing how the budget delay impacts their education, Rowan said.

“We want to send a message to Springfield that this is having a consequential impact on the largest dental school in the state,” she said.

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