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Anna Maria, WPI Among Colleges Experiencing Construction Boom

July 24, 2011 : Worcester Telegram & Gazette, by Noman Khanani

Eight hours a day, five days a week nearly 60 construction workers labor on the Anna Maria campus in Paxton.

Over the past five months, the workers have put together a huge structure. All that remains is the carpeting, painting, plumbing and other utility work. In a month, the facility will be a home to many students, and the construction workers will move on to a new project.

The Catholic school with 1,600 students on its 191-acre campus is expanding, this time with a 65,000-square-foot dormitory to be completed by mid-August. The three-story dorm cost $9 million and will offer suite-style living for up to 200 students. Each suite will be single sex and consist of double and single bedrooms and two bathrooms. Suites will each house up to six upper classmen.

Over the past four years, Anna Maria has nearly doubled its enrollment. With the residence population increasing from 240 in 2007 to 575 now, a need for more dormitories and other facilities to accommodate students has been a priority.

“We’re doing it because of the growth of the college,” said Anna Maria President Jack P. Calareso.

While campus construction nationally slowed sharply after the recession began in 2008, building on campuses in Massachusetts has recently been a bright spot for the construction industry. After dropping nearly 60 percent in 2009, the total value of campus construction contracts awarded statewide rebounded last year, rising 21 percent to $310.9 million. Through May of this year contracts were up 33 percent over the same period in 2010, according to McGraw-Hill Construction.

Nationwide, the value of campus construction dropped 12 percent in 2009, 1 percent last year and is off 16 percent through May.

A soft market can mean lower costs for those going out to bid.

“It’s a great time to build for colleges,” said Mr. Calareso. “It’s unfortunate for the construction industry, but for us, it’s bigger spending for our buck.”

With the work financed through a bond issue by MassDevelopment, Anna Maria plans to add two more residence halls and a new sports facility in the near future.

“We think that will be perfect for the size of our campus,” said Mr. Calareso.

Worcester-based Cutler Associates, which is building the dorm at Anna Maria, has recently seen its backlog double. Though construction of college buildings has played a large role in the company’s success, it also specializes in corporate industrial offices, health care facilities and senior living centers.

“Things slowed down dramatically when the recession hit … colleges were getting less (from their) endowments and there was less building construction work going on,” said Roderick C. Shaffert, vice president of the Scholastic Division at Cutler Associates, a design and construction company.

“We’ve seen things start to pick up last year, but they’re still not the way things used to be,” he added.

“Over the past couple years it’s been more renovations and less new buildings,” said Michael E. Bass, the company’s vice president of design. Cutler is also set to make renovations this summer on the roof and exterior of Washburn Shops, one of the oldest buildings at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

Between June 2010 and last month, 27 states lost jobs in the construction industry while 22 states and the District of Columbia added jobs, according to the Associated General Contractors of America. Massachusetts gained 4,200 construction jobs over the 12 months, up 3.9 percent to 110,800.

Other members of the Colleges of Worcester Consortium have been taking advantage of opportunities generated by a soft market, and nearly every school has a project in the construction or planning phase.

WPI began construction of its $53.2 million recreation center in May 2010 with hopes to have it done by next summer. MassDevelopment issued $56 million in tax-exempt bonds on behalf of the college. Cardinal Construction Inc. is under contract for the design and construction of the building, which will include a 29,000-square-foot gymnasium, a 25-meter competition swimming pool and specialized spaces.

“Generally, it’s a better time to build for colleges because there’s more competition,” said Fred DiMauro, WPI’s assistant vice president of facilities. When construction firms are desperate for work, they are more willing to lower their margin of profit, said Mr. DiMauro.

Assumption College has the 8,800-square-foot Campus Ministry Center under construction. Lauring Construction is building the $3.9 million center, which is expected to be done by December. The old ministry center burned down 18 years ago.

Among other projects, Quinsigamond Community College recently renovated its old library, which was being used for storage space, into office space.

The College of the Holy Cross will have its 11th dormitory on campus completed by next month. The 156-bed dormitory will cost the school $20 million and house mostly seniors. The school also has been landscaping outside the Hogan Campus Center this summer as it seeks to beautify the busy crossroads of its campus.

Last month, construction workers topped off the highest level of the $400 million Albert Sherman Center at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, which is scheduled to open in late 2012. The 500,000-square-foot facility will double the medical school’s research space.

And in Leicester, Becker College broke ground June 10 on a new $9 million campus center being built with money from a fundraising campaign.

Lastly, Worcester State University is in the process of planning for a $45 million athletic wellness center and a dormitory for 300 students. No timelines have been set for either project.

© Copyright 2011 Worcester Telegram & Gazette.