By Richard Zagrzecki
As the University of Houston prepares for the new calendar year and the start of the spring semester, the implementation of its first-ever capital improvement plan is steadily moving forward.
The five-year plan, which will be reviewed and updated annually, was approved by the UH System Board of Regents last spring to address building and infrastructure capital facilities needs. Over the summer and fall, a capital improvement team worked diligently on hammering out the details of how to implement it and sought feedback from various internal campus stakeholders.
At the same time, decisions had to be made regarding which projects were more pressing and had a higher priority. That led to the formation of the Maintenance Project Evaluation Committee, which has been tasked with prioritizing and recommending projects on an annual basis using specific scoring criteria.
Heading into calendar year 2015, more than a dozen projects identified by that committee have received administrative approval to move forward. All of them, to varying degrees, are already in progress. They vary in scope and complexity, with two of the more pressing ones focusing on improving the campus electrical infrastructure. Other projects that will be undertaken this coming year are a new HVAC system for the Fine Arts building, a fire pump for the Engineering building, repairs to the HVAC system in the Architecture building, the continued implementation of the keyless card access system in all campus buildings and the refurbishing of the Cullen Family Plaza Fountain and Reflecting Pool.
In addition, the campus wayfinding signage project will continue to be implemented, and stairs and building envelope work will be done in the Science and Research 1 building. Various state fire marshal-mandated projects will also be undertaken.
All of the identified projects fall under the education and general use umbrella, which pertain to academic functions and support and which are paid for through Higher Education Assistance Funds. Those monies are not unlimited, so throughout the entire process, the priority has been focusing on the campus buildings and infrastructure and making sure critical needs are addressed, said Associate Vice Chancellor/Associate Vice President for Administration Emily Messa.
“The group as they undertook this important and exciting endeavor was tasked with keeping their focus on how best to implement the plan,” Messa said. “We needed them to look out for the best interests of the buildings and infrastructure.”
The capital improvement plan, which will be incorporated into a campus master plan, was preceded by a facilities condition assessment, which was completed in 2012. That assessment looked closely at 75 campus buildings from an architectural and engineering standpoint to identify work that needed to be undertaken within each of them and how quickly it should be done. After that, a campus-wide facilities users space needs survey was conducted. Thirty user groups, including deans and department heads, responded regarding their space needs and how well their facilities are meeting those needs. The assessment and the survey helped pave the way for identifying potential projects to include in the capital improvement plan.
This coming year, another 35 campus buildings are scheduled to undergo a facilities assessment.
Messa said that as the capital improvement plan moves forward, it will help the University better identify its more pressing needs.
“The University understands that addressing the facility and infrastructure needs requires a comprehensive team approach,” she said. “This plan helps us immensely in reaching that goal.”