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Archive for Thursday, August 1, 2002

Officials delay research facilities

Committee must decide whether to hire outside building consultant

August 1, 2002

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— It will be at least three more weeks before the state's three largest universities can proceed with plans for new research facilities.

The committee charged with overseeing the projects, financed by $133 million in bonds approved this spring by the Legislature, met for the first time Wednesday.

The group of education, government and business leaders appointed by legislators and the Kansas Board of Regents agreed to delay starting on the buildings until deciding whether to hire an outside consultant to organize the effort.

They'll probably make that decision at their next meeting, Aug. 23. They'll also discuss whether to forgo the traditional state bid process in favor of a process that would be quicker but cost more.

KU officials who will receive about $65 million toward a life science research building said they were willing to wait if it meant the process would be more efficient in the long run.

"The KU Medical School's position all along has been to get it done right and efficiently," said Dennis McCulloch, a KU Medical Center spokesman. "It's whatever the state can do with its flexibility to maximize dollars and still give researchers the building they need."

McCulloch said KU officials were anxious to start designing and building the facility.

"We could use the space now," he said. "There are projects and researchers who are cramped, and with evolving technology, you need a place where that technology can go, and this building will be equipped to handle that."

Kansas State University officials, who are expecting $40 million for a food safety research facility, also have said they're ready to proceed.

A Wichita State University official said Wednesday the university still was trying to determine specifications for the $10 million it received for aviation research. The bill also includes $13 million for wind tunnel improvements at Wichita State.

Much of the discussion at the Research Corp. board of directors' first meeting Wednesday was whether to hire an outside consultant, a proposal supported by Clay Blair of Overland Park, the corporation's chairman and former chairman of the Board of Regents.

Committee member Steve Clark, a former regent, said he thought regents staff members were too busy to take on the full-time project.

But Rep. Rocky Nichols, D-Topeka, said hiring someone to oversee the project could simply add to its cost. He suggested consulting with university officials for their opinions before making the commitment.

Corporation members also must decide what process they'll follow when constructing the buildings. In the traditional state procedure, an architect designs the building and then it's put up for bids from general contractors.

But the law authorizing the research facilities gives the corporation members another option. They could hire a construction manager to work with the architect during the design process. Although the manager would require a fee, the company would guarantee a maximum price before construction began.

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