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Tippin Gym Renovation Project Still in Negotiations; Redesign of Project Needed
CLARION, Pa. (EYT) – A Pennsylvania Department of General Services (DGS) spokesperson told exploreClarion.com that negotiations are still ongoing for the Clarion University Tippin Gym renovation project and that a redesign of the project is required.
“We are still in negotiations,” Troy Thompson, Spokesperson for DGS said. “Some of the decisions require a redesign. We have to go through that process. Hopefully, we get cost estimates more firmed up.”
Todd Pfannestiel, Clarion University’s Provost and Vice-President for Academic Affairs who was also the acting president at the time of the interview, said he doesn’t believe the redesign will change the original plans a whole lot.
“I hesitate to say redesign,” Pfannestiel said. “It makes it sound like a lot of changes need to be made. I don’t believe that will be the case. We just need to make adjustments to fit (the project) into the money.”
Bids on the project were opened over the summer, and DGS entered into negotiations with Mascaro Construction Company, of Pittsburgh, whose bid on the project came in at $31,367,000.00.
That was well below the estimate “nearly $45 million” budget Clarion University’s Athletics Department cited in a June 2014 Frequently Asked Questions segment on its website about the project.
Thompson said he couldn’t get “into” the numbers when asked why a project that was budgeted at $45 million with a bid of $31 million needed to be redesigned. However, he did say that this was at least the second or third time the project went out to bid, and he believes DGS is very close to coming to an agreement on the project with the contractor.
“We are very close,” Thompson said. “To be able to give you a concrete deadline is probably not possible, but we believe in the near future. We believe we are having very successful negotiations, but it is requiring some redesign work.”
Thompson said it was possible that negotiations could be finalized by early November which would fit a university announced timeline to stay in Tippin Gym until Thanksgiving.
“It is just that, an estimate,” Thompson said.
Pfannestiel said his people are telling him that good news could be announced on the project at any time but that the university is leary of releasing too much information because of how long the process has already taken.
“The University has been so close before that we don’t want to get disappointed if something doesn’t work out,” Pfannestiel said. “It has been frustrating at times. Some of it with DGS but with other factors as well.”
Clarion University moved its athletics office out of Tippin Gym and planned on shutting down the gym in late April/early May in anticipation of the start of the project over the summer. But a release by the university in late September said that its teams would continue to utilize Tippin Gym for both practices and events until at least Thanksgiving.
When asked why the renovation project hadn’t yet started, the university blamed DGS.
“The Tippin renovation project is funded through the commonwealth legislature,” Clarion University Spokesperson Tina Horner said.
“As is required by commonwealth-funded capital projects, all project design, bid, award, and construction is handled by the Department of General Services. The university is a participant in design and other meetings during the bid and review process, but the determination regarding awarding of bids and notice to proceed letters rests with DGS.”
Thompson said he wasn’t going to engage in finger-pointing but pointed out that the university’s plans called for more than it could afford.
“We are doing our best to negotiate a successful score of work to match a price and to make sure funding is available,” Thompson said. “The project exceeded budget and made us do negotiations just for this rebid. We have to find a happy medium for the project at this point. You can have a lot of things you want done but not have funding available. Our role is to get as close as possible. That is what we have been trying to do for the university.”
Clarion University Vice President for University Development Jim Geiger reiterated that the university was a participant in the talks but refused to divulge what the redesign would look like.
In a statement from Geiger via Horner, he explained, “The university is a participant in design and other meetings during the bid and review process.”
“As a participant in those meetings, the university is fully aware of the status of (the) project and actions by DGS regarding the project.”
Pfannestiel said it wouldn’t be prudent to release the newest design until everything is finalized considering how close things have come in the past without construction starting.
Clarion University originally announced the renovation of Tippin Gym as well as the building of a new natatorium adjacent to the Student Recreation Center and renovations to the locker rooms in the recreation center and other “enhancements” March 7, 2012.
At the time of the announcement in 2012, an anticipated start date on the renovations to Tippin Gym was fall of 2013.
“Now that the feasibility study is complete, the actual construction design will begin for the natatorium project and Tippin renovation,” a media release from the university dated March 7, 2012, stated. “Assuming expedient progress on the design (Paul) Bylaska (vice president for finance and administration at the university in 2012) expects construction to begin in fall 2013.”
Since then, there has been no known movement on the new natatorium, and the Tippin Gym project continues to get pushed back.
After construction did not take place in fall 2013, the university athletics department added the above mentioned Frequently Asked Questions segment to its athletics website (www.clariongoldeneagles.com) as well as artist renditions of what the renovated gym would look like and a video featuring the Clarion Athletic Director Dave Katis talking about the project. It is now known that the gym will not look exactly like it was announced in 2014 including a new pool at the gym that was going to be built is now not being built, multiple sources have told exploreClarion.
Within the FAQ one of the questions asked was “What is the timing of the project,” and the answer was “We anticipate a Fall 2018 completion.”
The FAQ also stated at the time that the university made a request to the State Capital projects budget for possible renovations of the building more than 15 years ago or 1999 or earlier.
“The project was approved by the state legislature in 2008 as part of the capital budget bill that year,” the FAQ said. “The formal request for the release of those funds was made in August 2011.”
After the project hadn’t been started by October 2016, exploreClarion reached out to then-interim Athletic Director Wendy Snodgrass – now the athletic director, who replaced Katis in 2016 – and asked her for the current timeline on the building.
“The renovation is scheduled to begin in March 2017,” Snodgrass said in an October 24, 2016, e-mail to exploreClarion. “I haven’t seen the finalized plans for what the building will look like. I believe that the estimated timeline for completion is Summer 2018.”
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