Construction Panel Looking at UConn Athletic Renovations

Wed September 07, 2005 - Northeast Edition

HARTFORD, CT (AP) The University of Connecticut awarded a no-bid contract to a Torrington construction company for approximately $5.7 million worth of renovations to locker rooms and coaches’ offices at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, documents released Aug. 19 show.

Even though some of the money for the project — $2 million — came from the UConn 2000 renovation program, the work was not on the list of construction jobs approved by the state legislature in 1995 when it passed the law.

The rest of the project was supposed to be funded with private donations. However, that money has not yet been fully raised, requiring the university to use operating funds to pay for the renovations. The Division of Athletics is now in the process of repaying the balance in nine annual payments.

State auditors have questioned the manner in which the Gampel work was awarded and whether a no-bid contract was appropriate. It is one of the matters being examined by a commission created by Gov. M. Jodi Rell to investigate the construction work done at UConn.

The panel plans to release its findings and recommendations to Rell on Sept. 1. Rell pushed up the deadline from Oct. 1, concerned about revelations of mismanagement and poor oversight of the UConn construction projects.

University officials acknowledge they should have sought bids for the Gampel renovation work.

“We think that was a mistake and we do not do that kind of process again,” said Lorraine Aronson, the university’s vice president and chief financial officer.

Yet Aronson said there was nothing wrong with taking money from a UConn 2000 account titled “deferred maintenance and renovation lump sum” for the Gampel work. She said the line item was approved by the legislature and that lawmakers were not given an accounting of each and every project to be undertaken with that money.

“Most of the renovation projects on campus are done through deferred maintenance,” she said.

The university decided in 2001 to hire O&G Industries to handle the Gampel renovation work, partially because the firm was working less than 100 yds. away on the new information technology complex, according to correspondence being examined by the commission.

Also, UConn believed that hiring O&G to oversee the basement level renovations would get the job done faster. The construction had to be done in six and a half months to be ready in time for basketball season.

“The circumstances needed to complete this project on time require immediate involvement with the contractor. Normal procurement times will not allow timely involvement, in fact, it may prevent meeting the schedule,” wrote Larry G. Schilling, the university architect, in a letter to the vice chancellor for business and administration in 2001.

O&G received three UConn 2000 projects, the largest being the $27.1-million contract to build the technology quadrant. In 2002, the same year renovations began at Gampel, O&G President Robert Oneglia increased his donation to the UConn Foundation, the school’s fund-raising organization, tenfold to the $100,000 level, where it has stayed for the past three years, according to a report in The Hartford Courant.

Aronson said the athletic department, through the UConn Foundation, has made two payments totaling $700,000 to help cover the $3.7-million balance of the approximately $5.7-million Gampel project. She said “university operating reserves” were used to cover the cash disbursements needed to finish the project.

That wasn’t part of the original plan to pay for the renovations. She said a donor had signed a letter of intent to pay for approximately $3 million of the work, but the deal fell through.

“The bulk of this was to come from one donor and that money did not come in, timely,” she said. Aronson said she did not know if the donor ever made a contribution.

Among the changes at Gampel, locker rooms were expanded and remodeled and security doors were installed in an enlarged hallway leading to the basketball office. Larger-than-life photographic collages of basketball stars — both men and women — adorn walls at two entrances.

After the renovation, the lower level of Gampel Pavilion no longer looked like the underside of a gym, but as the home of champions.

The UConn 2000 initiative easily gained legislative approval shortly after the women’s basketball team won its first national title in 1995. University administrators have often said that UConn’s basketball success may helped UConn 2000 garner acceptance in the Capitol.

Since 1995, lawmakers have approved $2.3 billion in construction to renovate UConn campuses — much of it on the Storrs campus. Under the UConn 2000 program and the 21st Century UConn program, the university was given all authority to choose contractors and manage projects with no outside oversight.

But numerous code violations and cost overruns have become known involving everything from dormitories to the student union. State police are investigating whether contractor illegally cut corners.