By Brian Bohl
Barbed-wire fences still surround Weeb Ewbank Hall, which once was a bustling center of activity as the Jets headquarters before the NFL franchise moved out in August. Vacant parking lots and padlocks on the doors have turned the north campus-based building into a dormant facility.
But that will change in 2009. The University's top priority for the year will be converting the 35,000-square foot building into the home of the medical school, which will welcome its first incoming class in September 2011.
New conference rooms, faculty offices and an anatomy lab will be part of the building's overall makeover, Joseph Barkwill, the University's vice president for facilities and operation said. Request-for-proposals for design and engineering firms will be going out later this week.
Medical school faculty and administration officials could move into the building by August 2010, according to the preliminary timetable. The request-for-proposals will allow the University to hire an architect who can create a design that will allow the University to garner accreditation from the Liaison Committee on Medical Education.
"By accreditation requirements, the building has to be operating one year prior to the first class being admitted into the program," Barkwill said.
An economy in recession has forced many universities and for-profit companies to scale-down or halt renovation and construction endeavors. Yet Barkwill said the Jets facility renovation and a redesigned rec center are projects that will move ahead as scheduled. University officials also said that a struggling financial market could be advantageous.
"Universities like us, we don't plan for one year," Barkwill said. "With the economy, we are looking at deferring some projects. We know we're going to do the Jets facility and we already have the design in place for the rec center.
"On the flip side, one of the benefits is that construction and architecture firms need work and will be more competitive in pricing. So, we want to take advantage of it. We are going to put them out for bid and see if we can get favorable pricing. If we can, we'll move forward with it."
Other construction and renovation projects for the University include:
n The design is in place for the renovated rec. center, where the north end will include four rooms. The University will expand the weight room that ties into the current weight room and build a pilates and a multi-purpose room. Upstairs, the conference room will be taken out and the entire space will be turned into a room for cardio exercise equipment. A new track will also be constructed along with a redesigned lobby.
"We anticipate that if we get bids in February or early March, we'll either start in May or September," Barkwill said. "We don't want to take down the facility for any appreciable amount of time."
He also said the Plant wants to start and complete before one of the semesters and to try not to have it in the middle of the semester. "We can do more work in the summer than we can in the winter. It will be 12 months if we get two summers in there or 15 months if we get only one summer in," he said.
n With the Jets gone, Barkwill said there will be refresh work in Colonial Square this summer, which is scheduled to include general maintenance, a new paint job and new furniture in some of the living quarters.
n The lounges in all the towers will be refurbished by the end of the summer in 2010.
n The indoor athletic bubble and adjacent fields in the complex will be leased out at night, with the University athletic department still using the facilities during the day.