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Library needs a makeover, but will it get it?

By Dan Myers Reporter and Bridget Tharp

Campus News Editor

After nearly 40 years, Jerome Library has not seen much change to fix its crumbling, leaky structure.

And it took students’ initiative to get the ball rolling on remodeling the Bowen-Thompson Student Union, which replaced a more than 40-year-old Union.

That remodeling took eight years of planning and construction as well as $30 million – the culmination of a long, complex process needed for any Capital Planning project to be completed.

It’s essentially the same process the library would go through if renovations are approved by the Board of Trustees.

In 1994, the idea of a new Union took shape in the minds of student leaders. By 1995, then-President Olscamp appointed a committee to work out what the new building should have.

It wasn’t until late 1996 that a feasibility study began with the approval of President Ribeau and the Board of Trustees.

A feasibility study looks at all the ways a construction project can be completed and their costs, said Bob Waddle, assistant vice president at the University’s Capital Planning department. It’s conducted by an outside firm hired by the University.

“When you’re doing a feasibility study, you’re trying to get your arms around how big the building is,” Waddle said, “[and] how extensive the renovation has to be.”

The Union’s feasibility study took six months to complete and drew up several designs the new building could take.

They each took a different approach – some were larger than others, some had just one floor. One plan had the Union’s main entrance and bookstore where the current Union’s food court is, in the center of the building’s front, with the theater on the first floor about where the Falcon’s Nest is in today’s Union.

Meanwhile, the University worked on finding sources of revenue to fund the project.

Since the Union isn’t considered an academic building, Ohio wouldn’t give higher education monies to the University for its construction. BGSU had to find tuition money and private donations as primary ways to pay. The largest donation of $3 million came from Robert and Ellen (Bowen) Thompson, the Union’s namesake.

This differs from Jerome Library, which would be eligible for some state money as an academic structure but would likely need private donations and other funding sources.

In addition to searching for money, discussion takes place about where the project fits within the University’s building priorities, said Edward Whipple, vice president of student affairs, in an e-mail interview last week.

“The key questions we ask [are], ‘How does this project fit with the institution mission, the University master plan, academic needs and program and service priorities?'” Whipple said in the e-mail.

Project moves forward

Any time a feasibility study is completed, the Board reviews it and decides if it gets priority. If it does, one of the building plans is chosen and bidding starts to find a contractor.

While Ohio mandates that the University must accept a low bid, a contractor’s history of quality is taken into consideration as well, Waddle said.

“The last thing you wanted was a firm with a bunch of OSHA violations for asbestos abatement,” he said.

Once an architect is hired, the design of a building’s details begins.

While designing, Capital Planning and the architects collaborate to decide how expensive a building’s materials should be.

“Do we make it $150 per square foot?” Waddle said. “Or do you make it $120 per square foot?

The bidding and design process may take a couple years. While the Union’s feasibility study was completed in May 1997, destruction of the standing Union and subsequent construction of the new one didn’t begin until November 1999. That time was spent reviewing the study, fundraising, hiring an architect and designing the Union blueprints. The design alone took 12 months.

Depending on the design’s complexity, construction can last from as short as nine months to as long as 18, Waddle said.

While the average construction time for a project is 12 months, the Union’s complexity resulted in it taking two years to build.

The Union was finally opened in January 2002, its square footage totaling 220,000. Jerome Library is nearly that big, at over 180,000 square feet.

A feasibility study conducted in 2001 determined the library needed $15 million in renovations, a sum that may have increased since then thanks to inflation and continued wear-and-tear.

But nothing was done in that time and a new feasibility study was started two years ago – a study that remains incomplete.

While the study is expected to be finished this summer, it remains to be seen whether it’ll prompt the University to add Jerome to its priority list.

Editor’s note: Read the final part of this series tomorrow when The BG News asks the question: Is a library central to campuses anymore?

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