UConn Construction Problems Spur Police Investigationv

Wed April 06, 2005 - Northeast Edition

STORRS, CT (AP) The discovery of safety and fire code violations at new buildings on the University of Connecticut’s main campus has led to a state police investigation into construction companies and how they were chosen for the jobs.

State police are looking into how UConn has awarded up to $1 billion in building projects and whether contractors cut corners during construction, The Hartford Courant reported March 25.

Under review are many projects in the UConn 2000 building program approved by the state legislature. Under the program, the university was given all authority to choose contractors and manage projects with no state oversight.

Recent inspections of three new dormitory complexes turned up more than 100 code violations.

“We are looking into whether it was done purposefully, whether someone knowingly made that decision or was it just a mistake,” Deputy State Fire Marshal John Blaschik said.

UConn officials estimate correcting the problems will cost the university at least $15 million.

The investigation began at least three weeks ago after the safety code violations were found, Blaschik said. A state police detective has been reviewing documents and interviewing university employees.

Responding to questions about the investigation, UConn spokeswoman Karen Grava said, “To the degree that there is any information-gathering occurring, the university is fully cooperating.”

The dormitory complexes are among more than 70 construction projects worth more than $1 million each that the university has completed through the authority of UConn 2000.

The legislature approved UConn 2000 in 1995. Three years ago, lawmakers extended the program by 10 years and added another $1.3 billion for construction in an effort to make the state’s flagship public university one of the best in the country.

State auditors issued a report in February that was highly critical of how the university awarded the construction contracts, alleging UConn’s system has all but eliminated competitive, open bidding for contracts.

The auditors found no evidence as to why or how the construction companies, many from out of state, were chosen for the projects. They also found that there were no clearly established budgets for the projects and there was no centralized and standardized record-keeping system.

UConn officials disagreed with the auditors’ criticism of the bidding process.

The university said it selects contractors by first pre-qualifying them and then running a competitive selection process. The process, UConn said, increases the probability of a successful, on-time and on-budget project.

Grava noted that UConn just won a national award for the method it uses to hire architects and engineers to design new buildings and renovations.

Legislators, reacting to news of the safety violations, are now considering a bill that would require all newly constructed state-owned residential buildings with a minimum occupancy of 25 to be inspected by the state.