NC University Building Projects Thriving in Slow Economy

Fri August 29, 2003 - Southeast Edition

WINSTON-SALEM, NC (AP) The slow economy has led to budget cuts for many of the state’s universities, but it has also brought an increase in publicly-funded building projects.

Low-interest rates and a high level of interest from contractors hungry for work have helped move university and community-college projects after the state started a seven-year, $3.1-billion building boom.

“The university projects across the state have been the one shining light we’ve seen at a time when other things in North Carolina have been dark,” said Dave Simpson, a director with Carolinas AGC, a construction trade group.

The University of North Carolina and the North Carolina community-college system are nearly halfway through the building projects. In 2000, voters authorized the state to issue construction bonds for higher education.

More than 40 percent of the 316 projects proposed for UNC campuses are under construction. Approximately 30 percent are on the drawing board, and 6 percent have been finished.

We are on track, we’re on schedule,” said Dwayne Pinkney, a UNC associate vice president for finance.

He estimated that 36 construction jobs are created for every $1 million that a university spends.

“We know that we’re having an impact,” Pinkney said.

At Winston-Salem State University, for example, a university study indicates that campus projects will pump about $85 million into the Forsyth County economy, including the $42 million in voter-authorized bond projects. The campus projects include a 62,000-sq.-ft. (5,760 sq m) computer-science building, set to be finished in September, and a 51,000-sq.-ft. (4,738 sq m) life and physical-sciences building.

“We’ve been very blessed,” said Jorge Quintal, WSSU’s director of facilities planning. Quintal said competition for projects have allowed the school to stay on budget.

The attraction of steady work during a down economy also has drawn a number of companies back to state construction work, Pinkney said. Some firms avoid state work because they believe the state bureaucracy is too cumbersome, he said.

“It’s helped. What’s also interesting, too, is that a lot of folks who weren’t interested in university work are finding that it ain’t so bad. They like a little cash flow,” Simpson said.

“I get a number of calls every month from out-of-state construction firms … who are hot to trot about doing construction work in North Carolina. In North Carolina, even though things have been very slow, relatively speaking, compared to other parts of the country, they are not so bad.”